Having to deal with campus traditions can be both a blessing and a curse. But that's an issue Boone Hellmann never confronts at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), which has yet to turn 50 years old. So instead of perpetuating long-established architectural styles, Hellmann is the keeper of an eclectic modern building stock. It's the compelling landscape—high on a mesa overlooking the Pacific Ocean—that holds the pieces of his 1,200-acre campus together. “So at the end of the day,” he says, “I am very interested in creating place.”

In truth, Hellmann functions much like a parent, nurturing the young-but-blossoming institution. Many still identify the campus with its signature eucalyptus groves and dramatic canyons. But Hellmann is quick to point out the differences from 20 years ago, when the student population was about 9,000. Now enrollment is at 26,000. “Each time we do something, it is a building block,” he says of physical changes to the campus. “We are gaining acclaim as a quality environment.”

Hellmann arrived at UCSD in 1985 after nearly a decade in architectural practice in Reno, Nev. He moved to San Diego intending to go to law school, but took a job at the university as a project manager in the interim. Three years later, he was named campus architect. Today, he manages a department of 60 people that oversees everything from planning studies to construction administration.

Although Hellmann has shepherded new buildings by leading architects from around the country, none has yet eclipsed the landmark Geisel Library (1970) by William L. Pereira and Associates. “There's nothing that I call ‘shout-out, look-at-me' buildings. We've been hesitant to do that, and our donors have not been about making headline statements,” he explains. One recent project of note is the Jacobs School of Engineering Academic Courtyard, a complex of three complementary buildings—one each by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, CO Architects, and NBBJ—that enclose a large quadrangle punctuated by a monumental stone teddy bear by sculptor Tim Hawkinson.

Other capital improvements have been driven by demographics, or “Tidal Wave II”—the children of the baby boomers. But on top of catering to a flood of students with additional housing, recreation facilities, and an enlarged student union, the university has put a high priority on facilities for science and medical research. UCSD already had a billion dollars of expansion in the works when it got approval this spring to move forward with $750 million in additional projects, including a hospital expansion and five major housing initiatives.

As part of a systemwide University of California mandate, UCSD adheres to aggressive standards for green building design and clean energy. All new buildings must outperform state requirements for energy efficiency by 20 percent and must, at a minimum, be eligible for LEED certification. The university completed $1.3 million in energy retrofit and retro-commission projects in 2005.

Hellmann admits that it's a struggle to provide stewardship in institutions that are rife with competing interests. But he thinks he's lucky, because his job allows him to have a lasting impact on the environment. “And because it's all in one place, you get to see the fruits of your labor.”