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Hip To Be Square

Hip To Be Square

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) today unveiled designs for its new building, the first U.S. work by Japanese architect Toyo Ito.

Plans for the project began after a 1997 survey found that the museum’s existing structure—a 1970 concrete brutalist design by Mario Ciampi—did not meet current seismic standards. The museum selected Ito for the project in Fall 2006. His new building, about ten blocks northwest of Ciampi’s 103,000 square foot museum, will be about forty percent larger, with almost twenty percent more exhibition space, an additional theater, and expanded and improved research facilities. The final design is expected to be complete at the end of 2009, and the museum plans to open its new building in 2013. The fate of the existing museum hasn’t been decided, said museum officials, although it will not be torn down.

Ito’s design calls for a three-story building made of a grid of 16 cubes on each floor; somewhat like stacked ice trays. Its fluid steel exterior will curve to meet large windows, at times peeling away from the envelope, revealing spaces within. Its 139,000-square-foot interior, supported by very thin walls (only five inches thick, thanks to the building’s grid design, removing the need for additional columns) will be composed of interlocking spaces with gently curved walls that wind and bend throughout. In places, the gallery walls will part, like curtains, to allow passage between exhibition areas.  

The museum’s first floor will house the two theaters; five exhibition galleries (including the MATRIX gallery, which will be open to the public without charge); the museum store and café, opening onto Center Street; and other visitor amenities. The second floor will include eight galleries, a screening room, the Conceptual Art Study Center, a learning center, and a library. The top floor, with seven galleries, will be dedicated to works on paper and to BAM/PFA’s Asian art collection, and will include an Asian garden gallery.

Nods to the surrounding neighborhood will include a plaza-like extension of adjacent Center Street, a largely transparent ground-floor facade, and a large, multi-purpose interior forum. Also, three of the museum’s second-floor galleries will have ancillary “vista spaces,” two looking east to Oxford Street and the Berkeley campus, and the third overlooking Center Street. The new location, which was once a site of the University of California Press, is set to be the anchor for significant downtown development.

All galleries and theaters will be equipped with new technologies, and the museum building is targeted to achieve at minimum a LEED Silver certification. The new building is projected to cost $100 million to $120 million for construction and $146 million to $165 million overall. Funding will come entirely from private sources, and BAM/PFA is in the early stages of a fundraising campaign.

The museum’s collection of more than 15,000 works includes work by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, and one of the finest collections of historical Chinese painting in the United States. The PFA film and video collection of about 14,000 films and videos includes the largest group of Japanese films outside of Japan, as well as impressive holdings of Soviet silent films, West Coast avant-garde cinema, seminal video art, rare animation, Central Asian productions, Eastern European cinema, and international classics.

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