Beckman Auditorium, Caltech | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Nevin on Flickr

Beckman Auditorium, Caltech

Beckman Auditorium at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena may be one of Edward Durell Stone’s smallest Los Angeles-area buildings, but it is also among his finest.

This little gem of a building plays on light, form, and pattern to create a modern interpretation of a circular Roman temple. A continuous peristyle of diamond-shaped capitals surrounds the building and culminates in a wide overhanging eave with repeated semicircular cut-outs, allowing for a dramatic shade pattern across the building’s façade. This combination of historic forms and modern materials is emblematic of New Formalism, a style made popular by Stone in the 1960s.

The style was particularly well-suited to institutional campuses such as Caltech, as it is modern in its execution but looks to historic precedents in form and pattern, making it a compatible style choice in historic settings. At the time of Beckman Auditorium’s dedication in 1964, Stone was already a world-renowned architect with high-profile commissions across the globe.

His work can be found on a number of Southern California college campuses in addition to Caltech, including Loyola University, the University of Southern California, and Harvey Mudd College in Claremont. In a 1964 interview about his design of Beckman Auditorium,

Stone stated: “I try to imbue everything I do with beauty.” From its sun-dappled exterior of interlocking shapes to its intimate auditorium, the building is nothing if not beautiful, both inside and out.

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