Art museum

The Berkeley Museum of Art, a modernist landmark, is redesigned and redesigned

The unique edifice originally took shape after famed Bay Area modernist Mario Ciampi (along with three other architects) won a competition in 1965 to design a new building for the UC Berkeley Museum of Art, which had recently received 45 works of art (and $250,000) from painter Hans Hofmann. Completed in 1970, the concrete-planked museum spreads out like a fan, with indoor art galleries connected by cantilevered ramps. The central atrium space has always been the hub. Ciampi’s genius was to create a dynamic place that reflected much of contemporary art. Its construction showed that a very rational building could be experienced as chaotic or, over time, as a complex system of movement, light and structure. The concrete could float. The result was what architects always hope for: the meeting of art and structure.

Upon opening, art and architecture critics responded favorably. Conservatives and some members of the public, not so much. Perhaps the biggest problem was the massive building’s seismic vulnerability. Although it had a “very bad” seismic rating in the 1990s, the building had few cracks in its beautiful concrete. In 2001, Forell/Elsesser engineers installed slender gray columns on the interior and tall dark steel frames on the west and south exteriors. This improved the seismic rating to “poor”. In 2011, UC Berkeley alumnus David Woo donated $14 million to save the building. (The university renamed the building Woo Hon Fai Hall in honor of her father.) Her generosity did not guarantee preservation, but she did raise awareness of the building’s value to other potential donors. The building was listed in 2014. The museum moved to a new building (designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and EHDD) which opened in 2016. Several projects had explored potential uses for the Ciampi structure, but none attracted the necessary donors.

It’s up to MBH Architectsin collaboration with structural engineers Forell/Elsessermechanical/electrical engineers PAE, preservation architect Page and Turnbull, and others, have proposed integrating a new laboratory and office program into the building. Braced interior frames restrained by buckling (BRB) would significantly improve the seismic rating of the building. The plans helped attract donations that led to the creation of the new Bioengineering Center, which houses diverse workspaces as well as wet and dry, open and private labs where UC graduate students can share space with life science startups and established biotech companies.

The museum’s art galleries have been transformed into laboratories (right), while its public areas are now occupied by offices and collaborative spaces.

According to Masume Dana, senior partner at Forell/Elsesser, the new structural solution essentially reinforces Ciampi’s original concept with some new improvements. MBH Studio Director Ken Lidicker adds, “We identified four main challenges that needed to be addressed for the project to be successful: preservation of historic character, improved structural performance and mechanical systems, and access for the new use.

The mechanical needs of a modern laboratory are much greater than those of an art museum. Because the thin concrete roof could not support additional loads and was part of the building’s character, the team looked for gaps in the structural concrete “trees” that help hold each ramp up, as well as gaps in the floor structure. Additional interstitial space was found in the large volumes of the galleries converted into laboratories. The area of ​​the galleries where the ramps meet and overlook the atrium have become collaborative areas. The building’s varied skylights, which once wreaked havoc with delicate artwork (they were replaced in 1994 with translucent sandwich panels) again consist of clear glazing, giving an ethereal, almost spiritual, similar to that of the opening of the building.

The team determined that 6,600 square feet of additional office space was needed. In response, MBH designed a simple, modern yet contrasting volume that resembles a glass and steel drawer emerging from a concrete cabinet and uses concrete walls that extend the building’s rays into its garden. Filling part of the garden with offices and making the rest private somewhat compromises the original character of the site. (And garden views were compromised somewhat by the necessary BRBs.) But that was mitigated by adding a landscaped area to the northwest corner of the site and adding a cross-walking footpath (designed by Jett Landscape Architecture + Design ).

Although Ciampi’s vision aspired to permanence, the use of the museum lasted less than fifty years. The ability to analyze and improve building engineering performance has changed dramatically since 1970. This has allowed the building to evolve and house future generations as they change the future of bio -engineering. In this case, it’s a win/win: scientific research has a new and powerful space, and an original architectural vision continues. As MBH Principal Lidicker said, “We let the building continue to express itself.”