Berkeley Art Museum mixes old with eye-catching new

The new BAM/PFA entry from Center Street. A café suspended above the entry acts as a canopy. All photos courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Well over 100 people came out Wednesday night to see for the first time what Berkeley’s new art museum will look like — once it sees the light of day, which will probably be in 2015 when the $90 million required to build it has been raised.

Designs for the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive were presented by Charles Renfro, principal at New York City-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who were appointed to the project in June last year, as well as by BAM/PFA director Lawrence Rinder, who described the plans as “innovative, forward-looking, sustainable and useful”.

The new cultural hub will emerge downtown, on the site of the old UC Berkeley printing plant at 2120 Oxford Street. With some excavation and new construction, new spaces will be created around the 1939 concrete Art Deco style building, which has been unoccupied since 2004. The most dramatic element of the design calls for a sculptural zinc-clad armature that will stretch across the museum, from Center Street to Addison.

View from corner of Center and Oxford Streets. Large plate-glass windows allow passers-by to see into the museum's spaces

BAM/PFA began planning for a new facility in 1997, when an engineering survey determined that its current building, on Bancroft Way, did not meet present-day seismic standards and could not be upgraded to meet those standards without eliminating the open space required for the museum’s exhibition program.

In 2006, the museum engaged the Tokyo-based firm of Toyo Ito & Associates to design a new building on the University’s downtown site. An economic reality check led the museum to explore design alternatives.

Rob Gayle, head of Capital Projects at UC Berkeley, said the university intends to retain the Bancroft Way building — which Renfro described as one of his favorite modernist buildings — and find a new use for it once the museum has moved out. This will be dependent on identifying a user and sourcing funds for the extensive structural work that is required.

Reactions to the new designs from members of the community at Wednesday’s open house varied: one woman described the renderings as Star Trek-influenced, another, who also wished to remain anonymous, said he approved of the plans. “It’s about time Berkeley had some exciting modern architecture,” he said.

The proposed design emphasizes transparency — with multiple ways for the public to see in and out of the museum. The hope also is that its location in Berkeley’s arts district will encourage a diverse community of visitors and better integrate UC Berkeley’s arts center in the city it calls home.

Read the extended captions on the photos published here for details of the new design.

Members of the public at Wednesday evening's BAM/PFA Open House sat on the current museum's BAMscape installation by Thom Faulders to watch the presentation. Photo: Tracey Taylor

View of PFA theater from corner of Oxford and Addison Streets. As well as an indoor screening space that seats 230, the design calls for an outdoor screen and green plaza on Addison

View into PFA event space and library from Oxford Street. Architect Charles Renfro said the objective is for the museum to be "open, accessible and communal"

Aerial view of café and BAM/PFA cntry on Center Street. Like New York's High Line, which was designed by the museum's new architects, the suspended cafe will offer views from on high

Aerial view of the new BAM/PFA from the Northwest. The new design reunites BAM with the Pacific Film Archive, which moved out of the current BAM building due to concerns about seismic safety

The multipurpose gallery. Architect Charles Renfro described the design for the exhibition spaces as being like suspended trays which allow for flexibility in accommodating the museum's diverse collection

The art and film library will be situated beneath the new PFA theater

The street-level exhibition gallery. Several areas, including the museum shop, will be free to the public

Berkeley Art Museum selects architects for new home [06.24.11]
Berkeley Art Museum seeks architect, again [05.20.11]
UC Berkeley stands by pledge to fund new art museum [11.25.10]
Berkeley Art Museum plans to revamp printing plant [01.27.10]
What might have been [11.24.09]

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  • Harry

    Sometimes objection to new architecture stems from unfamiliarity with the ‘non-traditional’… but sometimes it’s because what’s proposed is inappropriate, badly judged, and frankly ridiculous. And that’s the case here. Just because we’re supposed to embrace the ‘unfamiliar and non-traditional’ doesn’t mean we have to abandon all aesthetic judgement. Please, take an objective look at the design: it’s inappropriate, entirely irrelevant to the existing structure, and has zero relation to its surroundings. And it’s ugly as sin. It’s a typical D+S project, showing no evidence of understanding the community, its history, and its built environment, but only reflects their own egotistic agenda that they have inflicted on too many gullible communities.

  • Erik Schmitt

    I’ve taken as much of an objective look at the design as I can based on the renderings. You obviously have issues with the architecture team which I don’t share. As to its being “entirely irrelevant to the existing structure” as I stated above I don’t see it that way. Is it perfect? No. Will it give Berkeley some much needed texture in the built environment? As I see it yes.

    Regarding your “typical D+S project” comment. This team is responsible for one of the greatest examples of re-purposing an existing structure anywhere on Earth; The Highline in N.Y. This project has re-vitalized entire neighborhoods and is considered a masterpiece by most people. If their work can bring a fraction of that to Berkeley I’ll be more than satisfied.

  • Tizzielish

    I like it too. It is an art museum, not a profit giveaway to residential real estate developers and not the kind of ugly monstrosity that sits top Trader Joe’s. it is an artistic building. I like it quite a lot.

    I wonder if some of the folks griping about it are familiar with any new-ish art museums, esp. ones with a contemporary focus?

    This design looks exactly what it is: an art museum which is about as contemporary and forward-looking as anything can be. It is not a survey museum built to display art history. It is meant to inject its’ art collection into the contemporary zeitgeist, to foster dialogue and humans interacting with art. Contemporary art, especially, is as much cerebral as visual. This design is cerebral and open and invites people in to have intelligent, stimulating experiences with art.

    An art museum should be different and special.

  • Tizzielish

    I was hoping the ground outside the outdoor movie screen would accommodate large groups if viewers watching movies but it doesn’t look designed for that. That disappoints me. Altho the city could close the street and invite folks to bring chairs for outdoor summer movie projection and I hope that happens.

    Video is a huge part of contemporary art. That outdoor screen is a brilliant venue to present some of the endless artistic creation going on in contemporary art on video. It is almost impossible to keep up with what video artists are doing and I am thrilled there is this venue for ongoing video art to be seen.

  • Tizzielish

    I consider a medium-cooked hamburger a waste of the meat: I fuss at Phil’s Sliders whenever i order burgers, reminding them that I want to see real pink-to-red medium rare or I will reject the burgers.

    You Charles, are, of course, entitled to your preference. Medium rare is so NOT raw in the center. I am entitled to mine!

    And so it goes with preferences for what an art museum should look like. You hire talented, artistic architects and thinkers, you design something cooly artistic and you trust the artists. If we didn’t trust artistic visual thinkers, we would not have the Golden Gate. Sometimes, just sometimes, society has to trust that some public projects get done right. This one sure looks right to me.

    It is not, at all, the building I would have designed — not being an architect, that statement doesn’t mean much — but I can tell it is a building in which art will come alive and I will have many visceral, wonderful experiences with the art and events held there — that’s good enough for me.

  • Tizzielish

    I think the article was clear about the parking garage: it is already GONE. And it is clear from the renderings of the new building that a wing of the museum will stand where the parking garage used to be and the outdoor video screen and tiny lawn also will sit where the parking garage used to be.

    The garage is GONE. Poof.

  • Tizzielish

    I say that if Berkeley designs a dead space where no one walks, real estate developers with connection to the Bates power cabal will talk the city into tearing down the admittedly underutilized retail space and build another apartment or condo tower to create more housing that students will always fill. They will put retail on the ground floor to pretend to create street scape, make a fortune when they sell the building to a national real estate conglomerate who doesn’t give a rip about Berkeley.

    Having said that, it is unfortunate that Addison St did not get some oomph from the art museum’s design but I query whether the art museum has any duty to fix the ails of a dead retail street. I think not.

    The homeless won’t be taking that over. Don’t forget we have that new downtown plan — real estate developers, I bet, already have towers planned. It is, after all, a short walk to the downtown BART, just like the apartment tower that will tear down the Shattuck theaters and block the view of the Golden Gate from the campanile — a piece of public commons that surely should be maintained (I refer to the view of the GG from the publicly owned Campanile). . . .You need not fret about the homeless taking that street over: something much worse than some homeless will take it over: greedy real estate developers. I assure you they already have plans readying.