Campus Skyline on the Rise with Pepper Canyon West’s Vertical Construction 

This fall, UC San Diego will continue its rapid vertical expansion by beginning construction on the Pepper Canyon West Living and Learning Neighborhood. The complex will include two of the tallest residential towers in campus history, set to debut in Fall 2024. 

In addition to Pepper Canyon West, the new Theater District Living and Learning Neighborhood will also include two towers standing over 20 stories tall, and the North Ridgewalk Living and Learning Neighborhood is expected to include a number of high rises, adding a pivotal step toward developing a distinct campus skyline. 

Head of Special Collections and Archives at Geisel Library Lynda Claassen has been on campus since 1983 and remembers what it was like before the intense vertical construction began. She recalls a time when Geisel could be seen from the highway, and has experienced the leadership of four chancellors throughout her time on campus. 

“I think there has always been some construction going on,” Claassen said. “I would say recently with this Chancellor, who is also committed to providing beds for every student, that the level of building and construction is more rapid and more extensive than it has been in the past.” 

Total campus enrollment was just under 13,000 when Claassen started working on campus nearly 40 years ago. That number has spilled over 40,000 as of last fall, making the push for vertical expansion one of the only ways to maintain an open campus filled with greenery. 

UCSD isn’t the only UC campus to experience vertical growth patterns. Earlier this year, UCLA completed construction of a 17-story residential complex, and UC Berkeley has met pushback from locals over their plans to replace historic People’s Park withhigh-rise student accommodations. 

In their original long range development plans from  the 1960s, the three campuses did not  account for the sort of rapid expansion seen today. 

UCSD’S original 1963 long range development plan envisioned a maximum enrollment of 27,500 students. Chancellor Khosla told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2021 that enrollment could reach up to 50,000 in the next ten years, and his 2014 strategic plan and 2018 long range development plan seem to provide the infrastructure. 

With the chancellor’s eyes set ahead, Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Jonathan Fong has conflicted feelings about the current construction projects. With a housing crisis that has left many students stranded trying to find off campus housing in the La Jolla area, and a lack of parking space for commuter students, he feels as though the administration is failing to consider the impact that construction has on current students.

“I know that things like the housing crisis won’t change unless UCSD does something, so a part of me feels like I should be at least a bit grateful that UCSD is building something for future students to benefit from.” Fong said. “However, it feels like so few of the projects are actually meant to benefit me — for example, I’m not sure how to get excited over new Sixth when, as an upperclassman, I practically have no shot of ever living there. Same goes for Eighth college, which will only be done when I’ll have graduated anyway. Essentially it’s all just noise and shiny buildings I’ll never step a foot into.”

Despite his reservations, Fong admits that he has partially benefited from some of the construction, particularly the new bike lanes across campus. But even then, he doesn’t believe that they adequately resolve traffic congestion. 

“It feels like current students are being deprived of infrastructure in the name of future solutions they’ll never get to see or benefit from, with little effort made by UCSD to provide appropriate solutions to mitigate the impact,” Fong said. “Moreover, a lot of the new infrastructure has felt overly piecemeal — the various new bike lanes, for example, don’t extend across the entirety of Ridgewalk, and there are still significant chokepoints where bike traffic gets caught up in pedestrian traffic, causing both frustrating delays and safety concerns to both on the path.”

ERC senior Saranya Rajagopalan has expressed similar frustrations over the way in which campus construction has made getting around campus more difficult, but isn’t as bothered about it as Fong. 

“I think the administration is thinking about the future and worrying about accommodating for students who will join later, but the construction emails help inform the current students as much as possible,” Rajagopalan said.

Rajagopalan has been enjoying the benefits of construction projects that have been completed during her time on campus, particularly the amenities in the new Sixth College. 

“The campus has changed a lot since my freshman year,” Rajagopalan said. “The construction that was happening around Sixth College was there for my first two quarters on campus, and then returning to campus after COVID, Sixth College was mostly built and all the new restaurants came around there as well. This change has definitely been beneficial to students, as it’s a great new living space for incoming students and the new food areas accommodate more for the incoming class sizes, as they keep growing.” 

Sixth College sophomore Mary Vu seems to agree. 

“It’s exciting to see the campus grow and change so much,” Vu said. “I think Sixth college is really beautiful from their lecture halls to apartments/resident halls to the dining hall. Also seeing Eighth [college] being built has been exciting too.”

Regardless of the ups and downs of campus expansion, it appears that the rate of construction will only ramp up in the coming years, given the chancellor’s long-term growth plans. With a total of 16 ongoing campus construction projects at the moment, it’s safe to say that new students in the coming years will be entering a physically transformed campus.

Photo by Kathleen Shiroma for the UCSD Guardian.

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