Iconic mosaic resurrected at UCLA
Architects uncovered an unexecuted mosaic tile design, which was slated for the wall of one of UCLA’s buildings, and brought it to life using tiles from Artaic
Near the end of 2017, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) sought to renovate its Botany Building, which is home to the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. Thanks to an initial $5 million donation from alumnus, Morton La Kretz, followed by an additional $15 million donation last year, the ongoing renovation was made possible.
Local architecture firm, CO Architects, was enlisted to complete the project, which involved redesigning the existing entry, opening up the lobby by replacing the exit stairs’ solid walls with a roll-down fire shutter and creating unobstructed views from the front door through to the garden beyond. To pay homage to the man who made all of this possible, the building has since been renamed the La Kretz Botany Building.
The renovation also included the design of a 285-square-foot glass tile mosaic mural, which was discovered in the original architectural drawings from 1957 by prolific African American architect, Paul Revere Williams, who designed the building.
“We did a lot of research of the existing drawings the university gave us,” said Phillip White, Associate Principal at CO Architects in Los Angeles, CA. “The original drawings from Paul Williams had designed a mosaic for the lobby of the building on the west side, which was never realized. It called out for mosaic glass wall and we were really intrigued by that.
“UCLA has a history of using glass tile mosaics throughout the campus,” the architect went on to say. “A lot of buildings of that era — back in the 40s and 50s — featured a lot of that mosaic tile.”
The mosaic design, which is located on the left wall at the building’s entrance, recalls the iconic banana leaf wallpaper installed in the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Lanai Room and Fountain Coffee Room. “Initially, we did some in-house studies of the wall dimensions, underlaid the line drawing by Williams and started laying out tile by hand, one-by-one,” explained Lois Lee, designer at CO Architects, who worked with White on the project. “There wasn’t color in the original drawing — it was just a line drawing — so we went back to review his work at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he created a wallpaper design at the Polo Lounge. We took that wallpaper and extracted the colors to match what we imagined it to be.
“Once we figured out that we wanted to work with Artaic, they put the drawing through their program and suggested some colors,” Lee further explained. “There was a lot of back and forth with Artaic, where we were directing them on which colors we wanted and didn’t want to use. A lot of collaboration was needed to get it just right, with the right colors and patterning. We didn’t want super hard lines; we wanted the mosaic to blend in with the subtle, white background.”
The design team, who worked hard to incorporate history into this modern-day design, wanted the lobby space to feel “lighter,” which is why they ultimately chose warmer colors. “We wanted to extend the language of plants,” said Lee.
Before choosing tiles from Artaic, the designers originally specified larger 1- x 1-inch tiles, which didn’t relay the design they were looking for. “Once it was laid out, it looked too pixelated,” said White. “We were able to shrink the size of the tiles down using 3/4-inch tiles from Artaic, which blends better and doesn’t look pixelated. The vitreous glass tiles are a little more special than your regular glass tiles; they’re not as flat or shiny. They have a little more depth.”
The mural was initially designed for the opposing brick wall at the entrance, but the designers decided to relocate it to the other side, where brick isn’t present, in order to build up its full potential. “A lot of mocking up was done of where we wanted the mosaic and what the extent would be,” said Lee. “We decided to extend it out because the design narrative was to bring the inside out and the outside in. We extended the views out into the garden and extended the wood ceiling out to the front of the entry, so we decided to pull the mosaic outside and wrap it around the wall. We wanted to feel like that whole wall was the mosaic.”
“It was important that it come outside and not just be contained inside of the lobby,” added White of the mural, which wraps around the interior and exterior wall corners.
While the project went smoothly, it took the designers a couple of tries to master the color of grout. “We thought it should be white, but when we mocked it up, it was almost like toothpaste,” said White.
They ultimately specified Bostik’s Dimension® RapidCure™ glass-filled, pre-mixed, urethane grout, which contains reflective, micro-glass beads, as well as a translucent, urethane binder that reflect light and allow it to pass through grout joints and into the tile itself.
The color, “Diamond H600,” was chosen. “The texture was very similar to the tile,” said Lee.
“It had some transparency to it,” added White.
The mural was completed last year and is the main focus of the newly renovated building. “Everybody at the university is really happy with this,” said White. “Students love it because it was a pretty dreary lobby before. They now have a nice space designed with elements related to what they’re studying in the building. We also included a plaque to recognize Paul Williams.”
Based on the success of this project, CO Architects is currently renovating the rest of the La Kretz Botany Building at UCLA. “We want to keep the main entry the special stage,” said White.
La Kretz Botany Building at UCLA
Los Angeles, CA
Architect: CO Architects, Los Angeles, CA
Tile Supplier: Artaic, Boston, MA
Tile Installation Products: Bostik, Milwaukee, WI (Dimension RapidCure
in “Diamond H600”)