Berkeley Planning Commission discusses new museum building design

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OCTOBER 06, 2011

Following the unveiling of designs for the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive building last month, members of Berkeley’s Planning Commission offered their own opinions about the plans at a meeting Wednesday night.

Robert Gayle, associate vice chancellor for capital projects at UC Berkeley, presented plans detailing the way in which the existing structure — an unoccupied 48,000-square-foot Art Deco-style printing plant located at the corner of Oxford and Center streets — will serve as the new art museum. A new contemporary structure will be built adjacent to the new museum to house the film archive.

The prototype, designed by New York City-based architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, aims to offer multiple opportunities for public engagement and create a friendlier, more engaging perimeter along Oxford, Center and Addison streets than currently exists, according to Gayle.

To achieve these goals, the design plan includes features such as large glass windows lining the south side of the building, wider sidewalks along Oxford, a windowed cafe overlooking the Center Street sidewalk and museum entrance and a grassy plaza with a movie screen at the corner of Oxford and Addison.

In his presentation, Gayle explained the aesthetically unusual interaction between the two structures by comparing it to a fruit.

“Think of it as a fig,” he said. “It has a certain richness of interior character that’s different from its outer layer, and yet it’s a unified whole.”

The commissioners, however, felt differently. Among the most contentious aspects of the new building’s design was its overall aesthetic appearance.

“As someone who appreciates modern architecture, I’m not convinced,” Commissioner James Samuels said. “This looks like a collision of forms rather than a relation of forms.”

Commissioner Jim Novosel agreed, questioning the accuracy of the fig metaphor.

“Is it a brown turkey or a Mission fig?” he asked with a chuckle.

The widening of the sidewalks also proved to be an issue. Commissioner Victoria Eisen said she hopes that attempts to widen the sidewalks will not be at the expense of bike lanes, since those along Oxford are heavily used.

There was also some confusion among commissioners regarding how the plaza at Addison will be utilized. Although the design sketches portray the grassy area as an outdoor theater, Gayle said its official use has yet to be determined.

“These designs are not final, we are still in the schematic design phase,” he said.

The current BAM/PFA building, located across from the Unit 1 residence halls, was deemed seismically deficient in 1997. The project is estimated to cost $96 million.

According to Christine Shaff, communications director for the campus’s Facilities Services Department, there is currently no set date for the start of construction, although according to the BAM/PFA website, the project should be completed in late 2015.

Contact Nicholas Luther at 


OCTOBER 06, 2011