Isla Vista: An Architectural Walkthrough

Isla Vista is a town that echoes the patterns of its students—sleepy in the morning, stirring in the afternoon, and finally coming to full speed in the later hours of the night only to drift off once more into a dream state again. This tiny, yet booming college town, is undoubtedly the center of many UCSB students’ and community members’ lives. For some it’s home, a place to study, a place to enjoy oneself, or maybe even all three.

It is an eclectic, youthful, beachy little place with all sorts of unique, even quirky, architectural trends. So what is Isla Vista, or IV, down at its bones? What is this place like for a curious student who had some time to wander around and get to know this coastal college student haven?

IV would not be IV without the main drag, Pardall Street.  This road embodies the variety of buildings in IV. It consists of mostly quaint, one story buildings, and handful of multistory condominium buildings. Many of these one-story buildings host a variety of eateries, but all share a similar architectural feeling of intimacy. While the exteriors may strive to send a message of “Eat here, I’m unique,” when really examining the small interior of these buildings, there’s a clear trend that signals that IV started small and hasn’t grown significantly to accommodate its now rising 25,000 person population.



Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper article without mentioning Pardall tunnel, which is a physical representation of the division between UCSB and IV. This structure, a simple tunnel that hosts the infamous bike path along with a sidewalk, bridges not only the road above, but the two communities of UCSB and IV. It does so by literally channeling a large, prominent space like UCSB into small, intimate network of small roads that is IV.


When one thinks of college town, one has a vision in mind of what the sorority/ fraternity houses would look like. However, IV lacks a typical “frat row” lined with plantation houses, like many traditional campuses have. Instead, IV Greek Life is characterized by a variety of building styles, accommodating to fulfill the needs of fraternity houses. There’s also a stark contrast between these Greek houses and the surrounding buildings since developments eventually sprouted around IV wherever they could fit. A fitting example of this is the contrast between a craftsman style house that hosts a fraternity and the very modern ICON apartments that rise prominently behind it. These two contrasting styles are just another way IV showcases its uniqueness.


IV would not be IV without infamous DP, or Del Playa Drive. This street is a residential road along the bluff that is known for its nightlife and ocean view houses. The majority of these houses along the bluff side are characterized by thin, elongated rectangular shapes. Their main facades are narrow and the walkways leading to the doors are narrow. The houses are usually clustered tightly together in varying developments that can be distinguished based on the exterior styling of each building. This might indicate similar contractors or managers.  Some of these houses range from craftsman style to more simple stucco, while some have interesting details like this modernized balcony structure (see photo).



Clearly, Isla Vista has a variety of structures that give the town a distinct personality. Whether you’re in IV to grab a bite to eat, meet up with a friend, or just to take in all it has to offer, you definitely will notice the wide variety of buildings Isla Vista has to offer. After all, this eclecticism is exactly what makes Isla Vista what it is today.

-Kat Williams, ADC Curatorial Intern

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