As a teenager, Rebekah Gladson wanted to be a fashion designer. Her dad had other ideas. “He wasn’t going to raise two traditional daughters,” she says. “Education was the mantra in our home, so my sister is a neuropathologist; my brother is a dentist.”
Rebekah had designs on a different goal. She earned a master’s degree in architecture from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, then built her professional skills in private architectural firms, designing facilities for the likes of McDonnell Douglas, Genentech and Pillsbury. Arriving at UCI in 1986, she now is associate vice chancellor and campus architect, overseeing the design, construction, inspection and contracting for all major capital projects on the campus and at UCI Medical Center.
With a strong sense of purpose and uncontained enthusiasm for every project, she has helped to determine the shape and impact of UCI’s physical environment. For example, she has fostered the use of programs like Design-Build, an alternative design and construction process where architects, engineers and contractors collaborate from the start of a project, which leads to schedule reductions averaging 30 percent, lower costs and a generally smoother path from design through construction than traditional methods.
Her overall blueprint for campus architecture is to create a context that promotes learning but also invites human participation by incorporating defined entrances, pedestrian comfort and materials pleasing to the senses.
“Rebekah’s design concepts have a unique balance of cost-effectiveness and a sense of vision for the majesty of a university campus,” says UC Regent Joanne Kozberg, member and past chair of the Grounds and Buildings Committee that approves proposed UC buildings.
The next few years hold perhaps Gladson’s biggest professional challenge – UCI’s landmark, seven-story, $365 million hospital. Because of its complexity, hospital construction is typically fraught with budget and schedule complications, she explains. “The key is to stay focused on building a hospital that is a model for the delivery of health care in the state.”
As it always is for Gladson, the project’s success will be grounded in good working relationships, like those she’s established with outside contractors and state agencies; with her staff of engineers, architects and other construction professionals of whom she is extremely proud; and with UCI clients like College of Medicine Dean Dr. Thomas Cesario. “Rebekah has put her heart and soul into our buildings,” he says. She works with the faculty to see that their wishes and needs are fulfilled to the greatest extent possible, while creating architecturally elegant buildings that are also built to the highest standards.”
As the only woman in the UC system with her level of responsibility in the design and construction field, Gladson looks back on her father’s non-traditional view of her future. “I have the best job in the world. I do what I love, and I’m thrilled that I didn’t end up in fashion design.”