Work starts on new Berkeley Art Museum, to open in 2016


Aerial view of the new BAM/PFA showing the corner of Addison (foreground) and Oxford streets. The new design reunites BAM with the film theater. BAM needs to move out of its current building due to concerns about seismic safety. Rendering: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Construction work has begun on the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive which, all things going well, is slated to open in the summer of 2016, bringing bold contemporary architecture into the heart of Berkeley.

The UC Berkeley-owned museum, which includes the Pacific Film Theater, has raised $95 million worth of pledges towards the $100 million goal it needed to create a new home on Center St. at Oxford, the site of a former printing plant owned by the university. The new BAM/PFA is to be designed by New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architects of New York’s High Line and several museums, including the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C.

BAM/PFA has been planning to move since 1997 when it was determined that its current building on Bancroft Way — built in 1970 and designed by Mario Ciampi — did not meet present-day seismic standards. It cannot be upgraded without eliminating open exhibition spaces required for the galleries. 

View of the new museum from Oxford St. looking towards entrance on Center St. Rendering: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

“This is an incredible milestone for this campaign, now a full decade in the making,” BAM/PFA Director Lawrence Rinder said in a release. “We will be forever grateful to all of those individuals who have offered commitments to the campaign, not to mention the campus and Berkeley communities who have given their overwhelming support and goodwill to the project.”

Donors include Barclay Simpson, Cal alumnus, businessman and philanthropist, and a member of the BAM/PFA Board of Trustees, who said, “The arts are a critical part of civil society and education and this new building will ensure that UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley have a world class visual arts center befitting these communities for at least the next century.”

The design for the new museum calls for a new structure to be built onto the existing 1930s printing plant that will anchor the corner of Oxford and Addison Streets. A café will project outwards over the main entrance.

BAM interior

A gallery at the new museum: the new building will house BAM/PFA’s exhibition galleries, learning center,
participatory art-making studio, works-on-paper study center, store, café, and offices. Rendering: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Construction will be overseen by Plant Construction Company, which has already begun work on site planning and mobilization. The early phases of construction focus on interior work in the existing building, including salvaging reusable materials and preparing for demolition of the adjacent parking structure. EHDD of San Francisco is the architect of record for the project.

More extensive — and more visible — work will get under way this spring. Construction is targeted for completion summer 2015 with the new facility opening to the public in early 2016.

Berkeley Art Museum’s new architect talks bubbles, chops [05.04.12]
Palpable possibilities: Berkeley Art Museum’s home awaits [01.25.12]
New Berkeley Art Museum mixes old with eye-catching new [09.16.11]
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]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out All the News.

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  • Tizzielish

    I am eagerly looking forward to enjoying the new art museum.

    The current one has always seemed like a dated, ugly monstrosity. Like most things in life, architecture has trends and fashion and the current art building personifies trends of the time it was built but they were ugly trends. It is almost as if the architect created a poor imitation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim design. Both buildings rise slowly in a somewhat circular fashion but the Berkeley one, in my admittedly uninformed opinion fails abysmally. But that’s art for you, and architecture. It is culture emerging.

    I can’t wait to enjoy the new one.

  • Sean

    I hope the new building is not as grotesque looking in person as it looks in the rendering.

  • Mrdrew3782

    I like the design and love that it incorporates the existing building into the structure. Coupled with the fact that the city has plans to make that stretch of Center St pedestrian only the whole project will work perfectly for downtown.

  • Andrew Doran

    Hear, hear to eagerly awaiting this. But aesthetics aside, the most important point is that the old one is seismicly unsafe and must be abandoned. Not only are both institutions getting a needed new home and thus remaining in existence, but the new location in downtown is a benefit to the whole community in a way the former location was not. Now let the fighting over facades, sight lines, historical preservation, and allegations of jack booted campus thuggery commence. ;-p

  • Mrdrew3782

    It begs the question of what becomes of the current museum once its vacated. Do they seismically upgrade it and try to reuse it as something else? or demolish the whole building and start from scratch. But I suppose they will cross that bridge when they come to it.

  • Mbfarrel

    I love the outdoor screen; it will give drivers something to look at instead of pedestrians.

  • Mrdrew3782

    It does kind of look like they squished a zeppelin between the two buildings.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Very good point about architectural trends. There is nothing more out-dated than yesterday’s avant garde. I expect that, in fifty years, people will be saying the same thing about the current design:

    “It looks as if the architect created a poor imitation of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim design in Bilbao. Why did they ever have that fad of coating buildings in metal?”

    Though I think is is a bad design, I am glad that construction has started. The people it draws will be an asset to downtown.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I believe the top-most picture is the initial design, with a lawn facing Addison. I think they removed the lawn but kept the video, after people complained that the lawn would turn into a homeless encampment.

    If anyone is interested, my criticism of the design is at–By-Charles-Siegel

  • y_p_w

    I’m OK with all this as long as they don’t touch Arinell’s.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I think they removed the lawn but kept the video, after people complained that the lawn would turn into a homeless encampment.

    This is why we can’t have nice things….

  • serkes

    I like the design, love that they’re preserving the Art Deco entry/staircase on Oxford Street, and have a feeling every time I go by it I’ll smile.

  • Charles_Siegel

    This is why we cannot have lawns in back of buildings on deserted streets in downtown.

    It would have been different if they had put the entrance to the PFA on this street. If this were the front of the PFA, instead of a blank back wall, it would be a lively space rather than a dead space that attracts encampments.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Charles, I respect that you have strong, considered views on architecture and urban design. But I don’t think that those are the main reasons why we cannot have grass downtown without the fear of it becoming a homeless encampment. We have homeless encampments because we refuse to say (with enforcement to back it up), “no really, you cannot sit, sleep, or lie in this space.”

  • the original design was much better but also tons more expensive, this is, meh.. but doable within the budget.

  • EBGuy
  • Charles_Siegel

    If so, we will see if the prediction comes true.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Incidentally, even apart from the lawn, it is a dumb move to have the video facing Addison St., where virtually no one walks.

    If it were facing Oxford St., it would attract some attention. Here, I expect that no one will notice it.

    Maybe it is a work of conceptual art, and they are asking the profound question: If a video is playing and no one sees it, is it really a video?

  • baklazhan

    Why do you think people refuse to say that? It’s because the homeless have figured out a way to make use of the space, and since no one else has a better idea, they may as well let them stay.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I don’t mean that random passersby should say that. I mean that as a community, we are tolerant to a fault of obnoxious behavior in public spaces.

  • Guest

    B.A.M. (Build Another Monstrosity)

  • guest

    Public spaces are supposed to be for EVERYONE. Not just for squatters to use as campgrounds.

  • y_p_w

    I believe the point is that once it’s built, there’s an instant excuse to walk that way. I’ve personally walked around there when I parked on the block. It’s also a pretty short walk to the Berkeley Rep from there.

    Besides that, it will be very visible for drivers/passengers going southbound on Oxford.

  • y_p_w

    If it’s University property then UC will have the authority to enforce anti-camping regulations. They’ve done so on the campus proper. I don’t know of anyone who has camped in the UC parking garages, and they would seem to be ideal for the homeless if UCPD don’t remove squatters. Nobody camps on the grounds of the current art museum, and UCPD probably has a hand in that.

    Peoples’ Park is a headcase that UC doesn’t want to touch.

  • Charles_Siegel

    There is not an instant excuse to walk that way. The entrance to the PFA is through the museum main entrance on Center St. You would only go past this screen if you go out of your way to walk to the entrance: walking east on Addison, south on Oxford, and then backtracking west on Center to get to the entrance.

    Yes, drivers going southbound on Oxford will see it, but how many drivers will stop to take a closer look?

    Far, far more people would have seen it if they had put it on the Oxford St facade, making it visible to all the pedestrians leaving the University and walking down center.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Great urban design. Create a space that no one wants to use except the homeless, and then call the police to chase away the homeless.

  • y_p_w

    I actually walk along Addison. I’ll park there or on the corner if I’m heading to Arinell’s or Saigon Express.

  • Smartyartblast

    It’s a big improvement over the hideous concrete parking garage-inspired dreck they currently have.

  • Charles_Siegel

    You will have to tell me your schedule, so I can go and see someone actually walking on that street. It has always been empty of pedestrians when I have looked.

  • kj

    The rendering of the building is as much a fabrication as the rendering’s erasure of downtown Berkeley’s many enduring social issues.

  • david vartanoff

    The new design is butt ugly IMHO. As to the old building, which except for the PFA auditorium, has been in constant use since the bracing went up post Loma Prieta, once it is empty UC will do whatever seismic voodoo necessary and “re-purpose” the building. Which proves it needn’t be replaced.
    Moving downtown just drives another nail in Telegraph as both pre and post movie cafe business will shift along with movie viewing.

  • Stumbling Wolf

    To begin life as half poor cliche and half nondescript is a sad thing, even for a museum. Berkeley raises hell to save a few oak trees and sits still for this monstrosity. Are we really the rubes this design firm must think we are?

  • Charles_Siegel

    You are absolutely right to point out that the museum board seems to have been convinced that this is a new, different, and exciting design – when a blob-shaped building coated with metal is actually the great cliche of our time for museum. The designers have pulled the zinc over their eyes.

    Since you mentioned the oaks, I will point out that they are cutting down a bunch of redwood trees to build this. Architects who cared about the context of their building could have designed this to save at least some of the redwood trees – as they could have designed it to promote more pedestrian activity on Addison street.

    They would have gotten a more complex and more interesting building if they had respected the context, rather than just inserting an abstract shape.

  • Oh wow, they took out the pines next to the parking structure today, is that the same location?

  • Hence the birth of Wurster Hall. Ugliest building ever constructed in Berkeley.

  • If you’re talking about the trees they cut on Oxford today, those are not redwoods. They are Norfolk island pines.

  • “seismically” unsafe

  • BloUrHausDown

    Personally, I love the old building on Bancroft and will treasure every chance I get to visit before it’s mothballed. The sightlines in those cantilevered galleries are unique and spectacular. Apparently that building will be repurposed, but the necessary supports and walls to make it more earthquake-resistant will eliminate the large galleries, balconies, and awesome interior views. But I also like the vintage building that’s being remade into the new museum, and love the new location. Yeah, I’m A BAM fan.

  • A. Guest

    I agree. The new building is much worse looking from the outside.

  • Stumbling Wolf

    “The designers have pulled the zinc over their eyes.” Perfect!

  • y_p_w

    Yet somehow the cars get there and magically teleport their drivers/passengers without them ever stepping on the sidewalk.

    You suppose Google Maps photoshopped people into StreetView?,-122.265397&spn=0.006403,0.011491&sll=37.871455,-122.266040&layer=c&cbp=13,237.41,,0,10.63&cbll=37.871455,-122.266036&hnear=Oxford+St+%26+Addison+St,+Berkeley,+Alameda,+California+94704&t=m&z=17&panoid=9xt6h-JJSgh4nqodn0HtWA

    I could swear there are three people here:,-122.266985&spn=0.007411,0.010675&sll=37.871455,-122.266040&layer=c&cbp=13,148.26,,0,2.39&cbll=37.871307,-122.267233&hnear=Oxford+St+%26+Addison+St,+Berkeley,+Alameda,+California+94704&t=m&panoid=_22BMEPm2e5XCNp_nncAVA&z=17

  • Stumbling Wolf

    Just to let you know: I just got an email regarding redwoods, uninspiring architecture and Addison street. I’m stumblingwolf, I somehow got your message for Stumbling Wolf – just thought I’d let you know…
    I agree with everything you said.