Endlessly curious La Jolla architect Eugene Ray still learning, imagining and creating at 90

Endlessly curious La Jolla architect Eugene Ray still learning, imagining and creating at 90

Given that he began his profession in the 1950s, only a handful of architect Eugene Ray’s models have been constructed. Nonetheless his influence is major. As founder and head of San Diego State University’s Environmental Design plan from 1969 to 1996, he mentored learners who created dozens of San Diego structures.

“He was an particularly inspirational individual for me as a youthful pupil, for the reason that he believed and taught otherwise,” stated San Diego architect Frank Wolden.

RNT Architecture Principal Kotaro Nakamura also praised Ray’s affect, indicating: “When I was exposed to Eugene’s thinking it opened my eyes that the crafted environment is much far more than flooring, partitions and roofs.”

Chikako Terada, Nakamura’s lover at RNT, claimed she realized from Ray the “vibrational” ability of areas to provoke “wow!” sensations that text simply cannot capture.

Architect Eugene Ray's famous Silver Ship home in La Jolla, in an old photo.

Architect Eugene Ray, 90, is well-known for the structure of his former property, recognized as the Silver Ship, in La Jolla. The house still exists but its roof layout has been improved by much more the latest residents. This photo was taken by Ray when he lived in the property.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

While his learners have realized numerous buildings, the prime case in point of Ray’s individual architecture is the hillside La Jolla property, also recognized as Silver Ship, that he created and crafted of concrete-and-wood with his students in the late 1970s. Silver Ship is a “stretched dome,” supported by a cross-hatch vault of wooden beams in a pattern that resembles the diamond sample on a rattlesnake. He took the concept from “lamella roofs” designed by early 20th-century German engineer Friedrich Zollinger, and the idea was also utilized at the Houston Astrodome and New Orleans Superdome.

A collage of Eugene Ray's design and construction of his Silver Ship home.

A collage Eugene Ray set jointly on the layout and development of his former La Jolla home, identified as Silver Ship, in the late 1970s.

(Eugene Ray)

With Ray’s in depth archive remaining processed at San Diego Point out University’s library, and with his the latest 90th birthday, I felt compelled to get in contact. It’s only been 33 several years because I profiled him for the San Diego edition of the Los Angeles Instances. I figured we would chat for a pair hrs, I’d interview a couple other folks and I’d have a new story. As a substitute the “interview” morphed into a sprawling dialog via Fb, Facebook Messenger, mobile phone and in particular person. On the working day of my deadline by yourself, he posted two dozen moments, a little bit additional than your average 90-year-previous.

Ray offered Silver Ship several years ago subsequent the loss of life of his to start with wife, Marian, and a subsequent rework added a metallic roof and covered gorgeous hand-bent redwood siding with corrugated steel. Undoubtedly it’s now much more weatherproof, but to Ray, it’s past recognition.

Architect Eugene Ray, 90, in his La Jolla home on Feb. 13.

Architect Eugene Ray, 90, in his La Jolla household on Feb. 13.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Nowadays he life with second wife, Marianne, at Chateau La Jolla, a seaside retirement group. It is throughout the avenue from the redwood cottages in which he lived as a youthful architect, blocks from the Red Roost and Pink Rest cottages he served maintain back in the working day. He opposed advancement of the cottages land via his activism and an considerable report he ready for the La Jolla Historic Modern society. As a end result of his stance, he suggests a bloody dagger was still left in his mailbox and SDSU was pressured to fireplace him. In the meantime, his efforts paid out off around the extensive haul. The cottages are now slated for rehab as portion of a new progress.

A pay a visit to to his household

When I get there for lunch at Chateau La Jolla, the Rays have just returned from an oceanfront stroll and they greet me in front of the constructing. Gravity and time have experienced an effect, but he is nattily attired in a sweater and slacks — and energized.

“This creating is nothing at all to produce home about,” he tells me at our courtyard desk. But the employees is welcoming, the foods is excellent and the coastal site is attractive. And there’s this: “I have hardly ever noticed warm water come on as speedy as it does here! That was the initial thing I noticed. And the second is levered doorway handles.”

A New York hipster’s loft has nothing at all on his spacious sunny apartment. The most startling proof of Ray’s huge oeuvre is 1000’s of drawing/collages he has assembled in excess of the many years. They combine his elaborate designs with pictures from architectural, personal and historical sources, with themes highlighted in distinct rub-on lettering that wraps curved corners. He suggests that sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury (who wrote a treatise on architecture and consulted with Horton Plaza architect Jon Jerde) when proposed a movie incorporating these graphics.

As a particular exhibit for a person (me), he has lined the apartment with books, artifacts, pics and dozens of his collages. Even closets and bogs provide as screen spaces. Artifacts protect nearly every single offered surface area. On a dwelling home desk are international structure journals these kinds of as Domus and A+U that highlighted his work. In his place of work are hundreds of books, a fraction of the 10,000 he at the time owned.

Architect Eugene Ray holds a plan for his Radiant Gateway design, a fiber optic overpass.

Architect Eugene Ray, 90, of La Jolla demonstrates off his Radiant Gateway design, as soon as proposed as a fiber optic overpass in excess of the I-5 moving into San Diego.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

His huge archive at SDSU and at home is managed by his previous college student and longtime mate David Fobes, a San Diego artist and home furniture designer who taught at SDSU and will work carefully with Ray. Thanks to Fobes, numerous video clips of Ray’s lectures from the past 50 many years can be identified on the web. Fobes also co-curated a 2019 “Radiant Architecture” show in San Diego devoted to Ray, with versions and wall-dimension panels showcasing initiatives, primarily unbuilt, from Tanzania and Tehran, to California, Hong Kong and Bohol Island in the Philippines.

When Ray points out “radiant architecture” he speaks of biomorphic constructions, biotronic energy and synergetic environments. Resources of inspiration operate from Nikola Tesla (“If you want to obtain the strategies of the universe, imagine in conditions of strength, frequency and vibration”) to Bugatti sports automobiles, and from nature to extraterrestrial existence. Architects R. Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bruce Goff and Goff’s University of Oklahoma colleague Herb Greene — whose structures ended up highlighted in the 1940s “Life” publications that Ray’s father brought dwelling — are also in the mix.

Ray admires the radical types of his friends at Archigram in London as very well as the get the job done of outsider architect Paulo Soleri, who founded the Arcosanti experimental community in Arizona. He is fascinated with Imhotep, who developed ancient pyramids in Egypt, and with indigenous American tipi dwellings — sturdy conical fabric structures not not like the kinds intended by Ray and his college students. Years in the past, he took a course to the Yucatan to analyze Mayan architecture.

Eugene Ray's poster design for a proposed radiant architecture museum.

Eugene Ray’s poster design for a proposed radiant architecture museum.

(Eugene Ray)

According to a manifesto Ray ready for a French government symposium on vitality in 1985, radiant architecture “explores relationships amongst architecture and energy” and posits that “architecture can be structured to amplify and direct natural electrical power methods for human very well-being.” Photo voltaic ability is just aspect of the principle. Cones, domes and spheres transmit “bioenergy” to individuals inside of them, Ray states. This kind of varieties are past the architectural mainstream, which is a single motive most of his types have been under no circumstances designed. Cubes, squares and rectangles are much more common and marketable.

Materials and methods he favors also slide outdoors the mainstream. Yrs back he built a La Mesa household featuring domes of ferrocement — a mortar that is distribute about metal armatures to create lightweight, durable structures. In spite of a cellular phone e-book-dimensions submittal with engineering specs calculated on UC San Diego’s supercomputer, the town of La Mesa would not approve the constructing simply because it did not suit within current codes.

A single of Ray’s collages depicts an elongated framework that resembles the ribbed entire body of a insect, anchored by volumes resembling plant or animal varieties. “If the earth was likely to develop structures they would not be packing containers.”

In actuality, Ray’s existence simply cannot be neatly boxed. It is properly documented that he characteristics his relentless artistic spark to a boyhood come upon with a flying saucer, but he strikes me as a lot a lot more than fanatic for space aliens.

“At 15, I observed a UFO above our residence in Baton Rouge, a cylindrical craft, cigar formed. A bunch of us were flying massive kites, manufactured by my father. We would fly them up out of web site. We had been lying there viewing our kites, and all of a unexpected this craft flew little by little overhead from west to east. And to this day I have the sensation they have been observing us. Undoubtedly my do the job has cosmic consciousness since of that.”

Alchemy is a single of Ray’s most loved phrases. It dates from historical instances and elixirs ready by shaman, and evolved above centuries to encompass science, technology, metaphysics, theology and philosophy. His desire in extraterrestrial existence is creative, personal and scientific, and scientists are starting to agree it’s probably we are not alone.

Thanks to Elon Musk, Mars and other planets really do not seem so significantly away. Ray is an avid follower of Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who can make a robust situation for daily life further than our photo voltaic technique. With this month’s Chinese surveillance balloon and other mysterious higher-flying objects, Ray’s astronomical beliefs sound far more sensible. Loeb will give an on the net lecture for the “Contact in the Desert” symposium in June in Indian Wells, and Ray hopes the chat from a scholarly supply will mark a “crack in the wall” between believers and skeptics.

An architectural drawing by Eugene Ray for his monocoque shells structures.

An architectural drawing by Eugene Ray for his monocoque shells constructions.

(Eugene Ray)

Ray analyzed architecture and taught at Louisiana Condition College and Tulane, where by he acquired his master’s diploma. The location had a powerful impact due to its assorted lifestyle and his relatives ties. He remembers the early write-up-and-beam properties he built there, together with a tiny jazz location in the French Quarter. There was also a plantation owned by distant relations that showcased a domed construction.

In the late 1960s, San Diego architect Lloyd Ruocco and his spouse, Ilse, an artist and textile designer who taught at SDSU, recruited Ray to start an architecture software within the art division. Ray branded it “environmental design” to reflect a wide mission incorporating programs in art, sculpture, images, ecology and engineering.

The program embodied the rebellious spirit of the instances. He invited radical architects to lecture, these types of as Goff, L.A. modernist John Lautner, Archigram and Soleri. Ray states some lectures ended up boycotted by some San Diego architects, but he was inevitably invited by Archigram’s Peter Cook to lecture two times at the Architectural Association University of Architecture in London.

Personal computer-aided style (CAD) was portion of Ray’s curriculum lengthy just before CAD software turned regular. In lab courses. He and his learners experimented with high-strength ceramic and glass to make light-weight reasonably priced buildings. He recalls how his students bested learners from UC Los Angeles, the University of Southern California, UC Berkeley and Cal Poly in a competitors. Their “biomorphic tensile structure” withstood an overnight windstorm, while a concrete block structure by a further group collapsed.

Inspite of its good results in launching essential San Diego careers, the SDSU system made by Ray was eradicated soon immediately after his retirement in 1996. He came down with malaria through a take a look at to Brazil and claims that when he returned, he could no more time proceed training all seven of the department’s environmental design and style programs. Without having Ray, assist evaporated.

Searching in advance

Because retirement, Ray has devoted a great deal of his time to genealogy. He traces his lineage to the medieval Knights Templar, whose fortresses, he suggests, have been present day in their structure. Their chief Bernard of Clairvaux was, according to Ray, “the most admired individual in France in the Center Ages.” Also way again when, in Europe, he says the Shroud of Turin was owned by distant ancestors.

Ray and his wife, Marianne, produced a pilgrimage to the Château du Clos Lucé in France, exactly where Leonardo Da Vinci, an additional of his heroes, spent his ultimate many years as court artist and architect to King Francis I, and exactly where styles of Da Vinci’s inventions are on display. Ray states that just one of his ancestors was an associate of the king’s and introduced Da Vinci to Clos Lucé.

Plans are now underway for a new architectural diploma application at SDSU to open inside 3 a long time. San Diego desperately requirements it.

UCSD launched a promising architectural faculty in the 1990s, but it was short-lived. The College of San Diego offers an architecture major in its Arts & Sciences section, but not a comprehensive degree. The Newschool of Architecture is having difficulties with fiscal difficulties and declining enrollment. Woodbury University is closing its San Diego campus, whilst faculty member Megan Groth suggests there are options for a non-gain successor.

Architect James Brown of SDSU’s interior architecture faculty, states the new architecture system may well not have the radical bent of Ray’s, but Brown hopes it will have the exact type of wide-reaching free of charge spirit. In the meantime, Nakamura experienced labored with Ray to layout a Radiant Architecture Museum for SDSU, to honor Ray’s contributions. That undertaking is in limbo, but the beautiful developing would make a suited beacon for a new architecture program and Ray justifies it.

In the vicinity of the stop of a lifetime devoted to converting skeptics, Ray is optimistic about his legacy.

“You know a little something, my legacy is as powerful now as it is ever been,” he instructed me. “I have a massive global name. The substance which is been printed all over the globe, lectures and exhibitions in 12 international locations, has specified me a huge audience. When I die I feel my legacy is likely to increase noticeably.”

Sutro writes about architecture and design and style. He is the writer of the guidebook “San Diego Architecture” as effectively as “University of California San Diego: An Architectural Information.” He wrote a column about architecture for the San Diego version of the Los Angeles Periods again in the working day and has also lined architecture for a wide variety of layout publications.