Former UC Berkeley art museum building to be converted into scientific research hub

Leonie Leonida/Staff

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A building with a Brutalist architectural style that formerly housed a UC Berkeley art museum will be converted into a campus research hub for life sciences.

The Woo Hon Fai Hall building, previously home to the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, or BAMPFA, is a city landmark that will be part of a new research center called the BioEnginuity Hub.

The full timeline for the building’s construction, the cost of the project and plans for retrofitting to make the building seismically sound will be established when the UC Board of Regents reviews the project at an unspecified time later this year, according to campus spokesperson Diana Harvey.

“The BioEnginuity Hub presents a unique opportunity, designed to foster interaction between Berkeley’s top researchers conducting fundamental scholarship and the Bay Area business community driving applied translation,” Harvey said in an email.

While the final designs for the building are in development, 40,000 square feet of wet laboratory — where experiments involving highly dangerous substances can take place — and office spaces will be available by the time of completion, according to Harvey.

According to a project outline submitted to the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission, the hall is not eligible for state funding. The renovations will instead be funded by donors.

The old building at 2626 Bancroft Way, which was deemed a landmark by the city, will be brought up to code and must comply with the UC’s seismic safety policies, according to an email from Harvey.

Berkeley resident John English said in an email that he objects to parts of the proposed renovations, such as the office extension. He said the extension would “complicate the pedestrian route through the property and make it, as seen from Bancroft, much less clear and inviting.”

Use of the facility would be competitive and available to both the private and public sectors, in addition to student teams and faculty members, as stated in the proposal outline.

“At typical anticipated full daily occupancy approximately 15 operational staff, 240 researchers (typically led by alumni or University affiliates), 50 current students and 5 current faculty members would work in the building,” read the project description submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission met in June to discuss the renovations to the historic building, going over the description of the project.

The building, which was designed by Mario Ciampi and founded in 1963, has been empty since 2014, when the museum moved to a new location at 2155 Center St. because it did not meet seismic safety standards, which was revealed by an engineering survey in 1997.

“This will take an award-winning architectural landmark that had to be closed due to seismic concerns and give it a new and exciting purpose,” Harvey said in an email.

Contact Jackson Guilfoil at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @GuilfoilJackson.