Ask architect and historian Alan Hess to name the best-known master-planned communities in America and he’ll describe Reston, Virginia; Columbia, Maryland; and Irvine, California.
Pressed to name the best, he says: “Irvine is the best of them all. It is the largest, most successful application of important progressive planning ideas since 1900.”
Hess moved to Irvine 15 years ago because of its Master Plan, and today leads architectural walking tours that illustrate its success.
Here, he says, the concepts he learned at UCLA’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning have sprung to life.
“I’m an architect, so I’m interested in how to take ideas and make them real,” he says. “Irvine Company did that here to a remarkable degree.”
As we walk along a greenbelt in his University Park community, Hess describes the personal benefits of the Master Plan. “Everything is close,” he says, pointing down the greenbelt.
“There’s the library, the school, the parks, the pools and shops. It creates a sense of community.”
‘This is like Utopia’
The Master Plan was designed to counter Los Angeles’ unbridled growth in the 1950s.
As this sprawl of housing tracts and shopping centers approached the Irvine Ranch, Irvine Company asked famed architect William Pereira to design a brand new city — one planned with a major university at its core.
It wanted a city that balanced population with employment and open space; that maintained the highest standards of architecture and design; and that focused on Education.
And that’s what Pereira delivered with the Irvine Master Plan.
“He had the opportunity to do something on a grand scale,” Hess says. “He created a community in balance. That’s what makes Irvine nationally significant.”
Instead of being absorbed by Los Angeles, Irvine became a model city nationally renowned for its schools, safety, parks, open space, employment and design.
“I’ve talked to some of the original owners who came down from Los Angeles 50 years ago,” Hess says, “and they said this is like Utopia.”
Hess, who has written 20 books on architecture and planning and serves on the State Historical Resources Commission, is passionate about the reason why.
In fact, that’s why he gives walking tours to planners, architects and historians from all over the world.
“I want people to know about Irvine,” he says, “and about the Master Plan.