Architecture students propose range of ideas for vacant Telegraph lot

Derek Remsburg/Staff
The vacant lot on the corner of Telegraph Ave and Haste Street sits empty as cars pass by.

This summer, UC Berkeley architecture students drew up designs ranging from an “Urban Ecology Center” to an Institute for Anarchic Studies to develop the vacant lot on the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph Avenue.

Darell Fields, a lecturer in the campus Department of Architecture who provided guidance for the students, said in an email that he found the lot at the corner of Telegraph and Haste particularly appealing because of the “conflict between private and civic interests” that has taken place over it. For the past 20 years, the lot has remained vacant, and it was not until last month that the Berkeley City Council voted to foreclose on the lot, demanding the owner pay over half a million dollars to the city.

“It has received the most noise complaints, the most trash complaints, the most complaints about rats of any site in my 16 years in City Council,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district includes the lot.

This summer, 11 undergraduates in an advanced architecture studio taught by Fields developed designs for an urban think tank to be constructed at the site.

“For students the (urban think tank) represented an opportunity to invent an urban institution based on the underlying, not-so-obvious ideas that make cities compelling,” Fields said in the email.

After surveying the lot, the students spent the summer working on designs while continuing to refine and adjust their site analysis as they came to better understand their own proposals, according to UC Berkeley senior Jarrod Hicks, a student in the class.

By the end of the class, Hicks had completed a proposal for an “Urban Ecology Center.” The center’s goal would be to “educate individuals so that they may make the best possible choices to protect, improve, and sustain their local urban environment,” Hicks said in an email.

In his design, the outer wall that stretches along Telegraph opens up directly into the central space that organizes the building. Inside would be areas for more formal education as well as private spaces, with each location in the building maintaining a connection to the central area, according to Hicks.

Wilton Ip, another student in the class, designed a building for the Institute of Anarchic Studies and the AK Press, a locally-based anarchist publication, according to Hicks. In the spirit of its intended inhabitants, the building would lack an easily definable hierarchy, instead containing a series of non-rectangular spaces, according to Hicks.

Although Hicks said the student designs were not intended to be as viable as possible, Worthington said he was not certain that the groups for whom the buildings were designed would be able to pay the high Telegraph rent.

“A lot of things that can afford the rent in other parts of the city cannot afford the rents on Telegraph,” Worthington said.

Additionally, some students’ projects may not fit well within the community atmosphere, according to Fields.

“Politically speaking, however, the projects may not be viable because they are too unconventional and non-conformist — which is why, in the context of the studio, they are successful,“ Fields said in the email.

To move forward with the construction of a plan, the property owner would have to complete a development proposal including one of these designs, according to Worthington.

Ken Sarachan, the property owner, could not be reached for comment.

“If people have an exciting idea, certainly we can try and show community support so that we can encourage the property to move forward,” Worthington said. “Having a vacant lot sitting there is costing the city a lot in terms of lost vitality to Telegraph.”