UC Berkeley building set for Northside comes under fire

Rendering, dated October 2013, of the planned UC Berkeley Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation building, as it will look from Ridge Road in Berkeley. Image. Berkeley Engineering

Rendering, dated October 2013, of the planned UC Berkeley Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation building, as it will look from Ridge Road in Berkeley. Image. Berkeley Engineering

UPDATE, APRIL 23, 2014: Several trees were cut down early today, Wednesday April 23, on the site of the proposed new building. Reports suggest crews were working on the trees at 7 a.m. Ted Friedman filed this photograph showing a cleared area next to the volleyball court:

Felled trees at Ridge Road. Photo- Ted Friedman

ORIGINAL STORY: Neighbors to a proposed new UC Berkeley building say its modern design, and the need to remove several trees in the area in order to build it, are threats to the aesthetic and value of the historic Northside neighborhood. And the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) agrees.

The Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, a new College of Engineering design facility, is set to replace the volleyball court at Le Roy Avenue and Ridge Road. The 20,000 gross sq ft building, funded by a $20 million gift from the Paul and Stacey Jacobs Foundation, will have three stories, with the first story being partially underground.

BAHA sent a letter to UC Berkeley in October objecting to the proposed building’s “alienating institutional look,” and suggested the planners consider a design that bears more “relation to the surrounding historic resources.”

Volley ball court

The new Cal College of Engineering design facility is set to replace the volleyball court at Le Roy Avenue and Ridge Road. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The proposed design, which is by San Francisco’s LMS Architects who designed Berkeley’s Ed Roberts campus among other projects, includes a fiber-cement rain screen system façade, aluminum framed windows, aluminum louvers, and, possibly, bi-facial translucent photovoltaic roof panels.

Multiple Berkeley landmarked buildings neighbor the Jacobs Hall site, including Allenoke Manor, built in 1903, and Cloyne Court, a 1904 building on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood is also home to several of Bernard Maybeck’s earliest houses.

“You can stand on that construction site with a stone and hit historic properties, one after another,” said Jim Sharp, a member of BAHA.

In 1923 a fire ravaged the neighborhood, destroying hundreds of homes.

“What remains is very important because it’s really the cradle of the Arts and Crafts brown shingle style that typifies Berkeley,” said Daniella Thompson, BAHA board member and former president.

Allenoke Manor

Multiple Berkeley landmarked buildings neighbor the Jacobs Hall site, including Allenoke Manor, built in 1903. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The BAHA letter also protests the planned removal of several trees during construction, some of which will be replaced. On the site, 16 redwoods and one maple tree will all be removed and replaced with three 24-inch boxed redwoods and five 24-inch boxed Crimson Spire English oaks. On Ridge Road, 24-inch boxed red maple trees will replace the five existing Liquidambar trees, and the three frontier elms on Le Roy will be removed and replaced in different locations.

BAHA objects to the removal of the trees primarily because the redwoods serve as a screen between the university’s “institutional” architecture and the historical structures that surround it.

Some neighbors to the site share BAHA’s concerns.

“They soften the urban landscape,” said Charlene Woodcock, a 43-year resident of Virginia Street, a few blocks west of the Jacobs Hall site. “Having that grove there was a comfort. Its subliminal for most people, I’m sure.”

Woodcock said she is also worried about the environmental impact of removing several trees on site.

Christine Shaff, a UC Berkeley Facilities spokeswoman, said that in some cases, the project presents “an opportunity to replace trees that aren’t doing so well.” The university consulted with the City of Berkeley arborist about the street trees, and with the campus landscaper with regards to the trees on site, which belong to the university.

The street trees on Ridge Road are in the public right of way, said city spokesman Matthai Chakko.

“Given the size of the replacement red maple trees, they should be able to grow to the size of the Liquidambar trees they’re replacing within a few years,” he said.

Some of the removed redwoods will be converted into benches inside Jacobs Hall and the rest will be sold for use, Shaff said.

It isn’t the first time community members have opposed the university’s removal of trees on campus. For 19 months between 2006-2008, tree-sitters occupied the oak grove by Memorial Stadium before it was chopped down to make way for the Simpson Center.

Shaff said the university has removed many trees since then but rarely receives major complaints, and it makes an effort to replace them when possible.

“People are attached to trees”

“People are attached to trees and I completely understand that,” she said. “It’s not something that happens without lots of consideration and design work and thought into what will go in its place.”

The Jacobs Hall site was identified as a developable location in the UC Berkeley long-range development plan released in 2005. BAHA members knew this, but hoped the university would eventually recognize the tree-shrouded volleyball court as “a good interface between the institution and the neighborhood,” said Thompson, a Northside resident since 1988.


Jacobs Hall will not be the only contemporary structure in the area; it will neighbor Soda Hall, built in 1994. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Jacobs Hall will not be the only contemporary structure in the area; it will neighbor Soda Hall, built in 1994, and Etcheverry Hall, built in 1966, which are made of concrete, ceramic tile, and stucco. The BAHA letter calls the buildings “alien intruders.”

The initial design guidelines for Jacobs Hall acknowledge the contrast between university and community architecture, and suggest an effort will be made to “enhance and complement surrounding buildings” and “integrate into the adjacent urban fabric.”

“The strange thing is, when they presented their mission to the [Design Review Committee] they said one of their goals was to fit in with the historic neighborhood, but the architectural design doesn’t show it,” Thompson said.

The BAHA letter points to the recent restoration of John Galen Howard’s Blum Hall on Hearst Avenue, which incorporates Arts and Crafts elements, as an example of a less invasive modern building.

Materials have not been finalized

Shaff said Jacob Hall’s exterior materials have not been finalized, and that the design has changed since BAHA sent the letter. A November memo from the head planner to the City, sent shortly after BAHA wrote the letter, says, “The building’s primary façade material would be a fiber cement rain screen system. The roof would potentially feature bi-facial translucent photovoltaic panels.”

BAHA’s letter was passed around to the project manager, the architect and the College of Engineering, Shaff said.

“We got the letter, everybody read it, and we continued to work on the design,” she said. “We’ve heard from a lot of people as we’ve taken the project out, and that all goes into the mix.”

Construction on Jacobs Hall is anticipated to begin in March, after the Office of the President approves the project, and conclude in the summer of 2015. It does not require city approval.

Want to get a digest of all the day’s Berkeley news in your email inbox at the end of your working day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • Mrdrew3782

    All I see here are some redwoods lining an empty lot. That’s basically what it is. An empty lot with some trees. While I hate seeing redwood trees cut down I think the space could be better utilized.

    With that said I really think CAL should start building more student housing and less academic buildings. They keep increasing the population of the student body but don’t increase housing to match it. This being a residential neighborhood I would think the space would be better used for apartments.

  • Bill N

    Hard to tell from the artist rendering but the description sounds little better than Soda Hall which looks like a large bathroom urinal. This being Berkeley I see a lawsuit coming even with the trees being replaced.

  • Chris

    If they’re not removing an historic building BAHA should stay the hell out of it.

  • Charles_Siegel

    It is ironic that the Center for Design Innovation is proposing a building that looks like the designs that Mies van der Rohe’s did for the Illinois Institute of Technology in the 1950s.

    In our age of dehumanized architecture, it would be innovative to design a more humanistic building.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I don’t think anyone is saying that they should leave it an empty lot rather than making better use of the space. To quote from the article:

    BAHA sent a letter to UC Berkeley in October objecting to the proposed
    building’s “alienating institutional look,” and suggested the planners
    consider a design that bears more “relation to the surrounding historic

  • Architecture Police

    Since when does BAHA think they can extend their jurisdiction to policing the VIEW from a historically significant structure? Ridiculous over-reach.

  • bondolo

    “Some locals object to new” could be added to the title of any story on Berkeley development.

  • guest

    BAHA has no jurisdiction over anything. Like all of us, they have a first amendment right to state their opinions.

  • Guest

    Who cares what BAHA thinks? As far as I can tell they’re just a bunch of grumpy cranks who hate anything that doesn’t look like it’s 100+ years old.

    This is a building for ENGINEERS and DESIGNERS. It doesn’t need to impress a bunch of architecture buffs, it needs to be something that engineers are going to like and the proposed building does that just fine.

  • TH

    Ha! Exactly!

    We could save everyone a lot of time by just automatically adding comments like the following to any development-related article here on Berkeleyside:
    – “It’s out of scale with the neighborhood”
    – “You’re destroying history by changing what’s there currently”
    – “It’s ugly”
    – “There’s not enough parking”
    – “It’s encouraging gentrification”
    – “NIMBY”
    – etc.

  • EBGuy

    Perhaps they can replace the “cement fiber board” with brown shingles to ease the transition.

  • Cal Grad

    Depending on what the rest of the materials are, I like the glass wall to the street. What I don’t want to see are blank concrete walls.

  • punaise

    I find it surprising that the architect is not even mentioned or credited. It appears to be Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, the same firm that did the successful Ed Roberts Campus at Ashby BART. (different setting notwithstanding).

  • punaise: You’re right, we should have included details about the architect. It is indeed LMS Architects of San Francisco. We will add that to the story. Thanks!

  • guest

    And we can also have a robo-commenter adding variations on these themes:
    – I hate BAHA
    – I hate controversies about development
    – I hate architecture
    There seem to be more of those knee-jerk comments on Berkeleyside than there are of the knee-jerk comments that you list.

  • BAHA
  • Guest

    Thank you. In these times it is impossible to determine a correct solution to a problem without first establishing the two end points between which it must be located.

    You’ve done a great service by proposing the counterpoint to “cement fiber board” with “brown shingles”.

    Now, let me don the cap of serious centrist: The new building should be clad in Hardie shingles:


  • Tim

    As a member of a recently formed, yet powerful preservation society,
    FFTPOBVC – Friends For The Preservation of Berkeley Volleyball Courts –
    I’m concerned that no one has raised any concerns about the loss of this
    amazing court. If this net could talk, oh the stories it could tell.
    Just heartbreaking. I and the other member will be staging multiple
    protests at the Albatross between 5 – 7 pm every evening for the next
    couple of years if you’d like to join in the fight.

  • C. Dodgson

    It could be just like Evans Hall, of which it is said that that the best thing about having an office in Evans Hall is that you don’t have to look at it.

  • CalReader

    Wait, why is this being reported now if the BAHA letter was sent out in October? What’s the update?

  • berkeleyresident

    I live across the street. If they continue this project then I’d like them to replant redwoods close to the road once it is finished.

  • Carolyn

    Hmmmmmmmmm. seems a lot of sound and fury, UC has never given a tinkers damn what the surrounding neighbors think and do what they please, and quickly. I’ve an idea, maybe they could be set to work repairing the bridge. Just a thought.

  • Chris J

    I don’t get a boner when I consider how a building looks, nor do I really care that much about building design. But I’m amused by those that do.

  • Tim

    Chris, that street in Berkeley that you referred to is actually spelled “Bonar”

  • EBGuy

    Think of it as a Bat Signal for tree sitters.

  • Guest

    Here’s a few more for you.

    – It’s unfair for people to hate BAHA even though they stick their nose in everything.
    – People who don’t agree with attempts to block all new development, even when it improves the community, are destroying Berkeley.
    – People who don’t like the specific kind of architecture I do must hate architecture.

  • Guest

    Oh god, don’t give Running Wolf any ideas!

  • Snead Hearn

    Wretched! Another “Wurster Hall”

  • joyce

    Cal added Women’s Sand Volleyball as a D1 sport last year There are only two courts up behind Clark Kerr, used A TON by students year round…, and now even busier with official practices and matches.

    A few upgrades around this court, a couple benches, set away from the court, and perhaps a couple other items, would be great. Go put this engineering building somewhere else. There are current buildings on campus just not used at all…shut down and molding away.

    Volleyball players and fans…..UNITE!

  • guest

    Yes, we could easily have plenty of angry, irrational, extremist comments from both sides of the issue.

  • guest

    Could we have sand volleyball open to the public on the roof?