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

Related:
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]