Life on Ring Road: The Allure of Ayala

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by Claire Harvey

It’s hard to miss the towering form of the Francisco J. Ayala Library on Ring Road. While other familiar buildings on campus don tan, color-coordinated shells, Ayala’s two massive towers connect to a large circular building covered in glass windows. Bringing together several small libraries of the physical, biological, and medical sciences in 1992, this architecturally unique building holds as many rumors as it does a wealth of information.

Designed by the English architect duo James Stirling and Michael Wilford, the library was completed in 1992. The Science Library back then was part of a push for more innovative architecture on campus — trying to diversify the look and bring a modern and “cool” perspective that would draw students in and heighten the campus experience. The school later named the library after Francisco Ayala, a professor who went from being a Dominican priest to conducting studies leading to the prevention and treatment of diseases.

It has a strikingly different aesthetic from the other popular Langson Library, whose sci-fi exterior was portrayed in the iconic 1972 film “Planet of the Apes.” But with its sleek main circular body and two towers jutting outwards, Ayala may have closer ties to science fiction than one might initially imagine. Rumor has it that designers Stirling and Wilford were die-hard Star Trek fans who modeled the building after the USS Enterprise in an effort to leave their mark on campus. In an interesting coincidence, a minor character named Lieutenant Ayala appeared on the television show “Star Trek: Voyager.”

 The unique shape of Ayala’s design has also lent itself to a theory that pertains more to the biological sciences. Most of the students on campus will tell you that the pattern of bricks leading in the plaza leading up to the library depicts the moment of conception. Alora Perez, a second-year student taking a human sexuality class, explains, “Supposedly, the circular part is supposed to be the egg, and you can see the sperm making its way into it.” It’s a well known fact among students in her class, and they’re not completely off. The biological sciences plaza was designed by Gerald Ohta and inspired by the process of the cell dividing and creating life, otherwise known as mitosis.

While the theories of what Ayala’s design represents remain vast and unconfirmed, it has proven to draw students inside for its open layout —  allowing great views that other campus libraries can’t offer. In addition, it has the highest number of study rooms and a Multimedia Resource Center that has specialized software, laptops, cameras and 3D printers for students to utilize. It has almost a perfect rating on Yelp, with one user stating, “If you are at UCI and you are miserable because you chose the wrong school, go to this library.” It seems that Stirling and Wilford’s goal of contributing a contemporary and sleek addition to campus has turned out to be a success, and students seek it out for the attractive appearance conducive to studying.

Ayala’s unique design has garnered awe from many students and workers who walk the distance to spend their time inside. Nancy Chacon, a library research assistant who works in Ayala, marvels at the distinct architectural structure at her job. “You don’t see many round libraries. It’s amazing how they’ve arranged bookshelves and people to make the most efficient use of space.” The stacking of bookshelves and the organization of people is all in conjunction with its round design. “I love the lots of space, natural light and being able to meet the needs of students with access to computers, printing, and a place to plug in their laptop.”

The popularity of this safe and comfortable recluse for students to study can be seen simply by the amount of traffic heading in and out from the main Ring Road. In the middle of the day, each one of Ayala’s six levels is occupied by students filling in the seats by the huge expanse of window that covers the left side. Gazing out through the mellow sunlight, students can glimpse trees and a side of campus less populated than bustling Ring Road. Sitting inside Ayala is almost like being transported to a peaceful dimension unrecognizable to UCI. It’s practically like science fiction.

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