Designs for new Northside engineering building raises community concern

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The construction and proposed design of a new engineering building on the north side of campus have raised concerns from some community members who believe it sharply contrasts with the character of the neighborhood.

The building, named Jacobs Hall, will be located next to Soda Hall on the corner of Le Roy Avenue and Ridge Road. It is intended to focus on design education and hands-on projects. Construction was initially set to start in spring and be completed by fall 2015, but the projected start date has been pushed back until after this semester, according to Facilities Services spokesperson Christine Shaff.

The $20 million project will be an 18,750-square-foot, three-story building with open studio spaces, intended to meet high student demand for “experiential learning,” said Karen Rhodes, executive director of marketing and communications for the campus College of Engineering. The delay of the construction is due to factors including design modifications and cost-effectiveness, according to Shaff.

“The mission of Jacobs Hall is to bring design education to many of our undergraduate students on campus,” said Bjoern Hartmann, chief technical officer for the Jacobs Institute.

Some community groups, however, such as the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and Northside Neighborhood Association, are concerned with the building’s design, which they say conflicts with the area’s historical image.

Daniella Thompson, a director for the architectural heritage association, said she worries about the “insensitive” and “institutional” look the hall could impose on the Northside community.

“I live there; it’s my neighborhood,” said Thompson, who has lived in the area for 25 years. “I feel it’s very precious. The reason I settled there is because it’s such a seminal area from a historic and architectural point of view. It’s just sad to see the erosion of character in the neighborhood.”

Alex Goodell, a graduate student who resides on Northside, said he appreciates the historic aspects of area. He said he lives on a property built in the early 20th century by the former head of the Bank of Oakland, and he noted that there was a “lot of history” in the neighborhood.

Thompson also said that the architectural heritage association does not oppose modern architecture in general but that it is concerned about the overall aesthetics of the community. The group also raised issue with the removal of some trees, including redwoods, needed for the construction process. Matthai Chakko, a Berkeley city spokesperson, said in an email that five trees will be removed from the Ridge Road side of the site. The university proposed replacing them with red maple trees, which were approved by the city’s Urban Forestry Unit.

The university has not responded to letters from community organizations citing concerns over Jacobs Hall’s construction and design.

There will be a public event for Jacobs Hall on April 12. There is no set start date for construction.

Contact Jean Lee at [email protected].