City, BART panel approve colorful art installation at Downtown Berkeley BART plaza

Alexandre Bui/Staff
Julie Chang's artwork, shown above, was selected Wednesday by a city and BART design panel for the Downtown Berkeley BART station renovation.

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Smatters of color and patterns with a cultural twist might soon adorn the Downtown Berkeley area, after a panel of city and BART representatives approved a local designer’s art proposal Wednesday for the soon-to-be-renovated BART station.

The winning design by Julie Chang features a flower motif reminiscent of an English wallpaper, Chang said, with patterns drawing from textiles of Scandinavian, Chinese and Native American cultures, among others. The art will be featured on the new station entrances and bus shelters proposed as part of renovations to the Downtown Berkeley plaza that were approved in April.

“Berkeley is really the global community,” said Chang, an artist based in San Francisco. “If you look at the history of Berkeley, it’s been so much about inclusive and diversity and just melding, more so than many other cities.”

Chang’s proposal was selected after four finalists presented their designs to a panel of BART officials, city civic arts representatives and local artists. Along with Chang’s, the other finalists’ designs — Vanessa Marsh, Ron Saunders and Amanda Weil — were chosen from 84 other options submitted by California artists.

During its deliberations, the panel considered several factors, such as highlighting the architectural glass with aesthetically pleasing artwork while still reflecting the diversity of Berkeley’s cultural and civic symbols. In addition, the panel sought designs that would appeal to a wide audience over an extended period of time.

The panelists talked at length about the importance of maintaining the glass structures’ overall transparency despite the art installation. Tian Feng, a panelist who is the project director of the plaza’s renovations as a BART architect, noted that one of project’s goals is to reduce crime by increasing overall visibility in the area.

“I like how busy it is and how bright it is,” said panelist and city Civic Arts Commission chair Jennifer Lovvorn during the panel’s discussion. “It’s really fun, and in a bright, busy urban environment, I feel like it will be right at home in the city.”

Marsh’s design proposal featured several nightscapes with prominent Berkeley structures set against a starry backdrop. Saunders offered boldly colored photograms — created by projecting light on objects that cast silhouettes on photographic paper — of different flowers and plants as a nod to the city’s history with environmental activism. Weil created a graphic line drawing depicting a topographical map of Berkeley.

“(The designers) are really thinking about the people who are enjoying the environment … so it’s not just doing things because it’s beautiful,” said Jenn Tran, an Oakland product designer who attended the meeting to watch the presentations. “There’s really more logic and care and consideration.”

According to Regina Almaguer, a consultant for the Downtown Berkeley BART station renovations, city and BART representatives will now begin collaborating with Chang to modify the art installation as necessary as plans for the plaza are finalized.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.