Uncovering BAM

Uncovering BAM

The facade of DS+R’s new Berkeley Art Museum, seen from the street. Much of the exterior will remain intact, but DS+R will insert cantilevers and tilting glass walls, among other elements.
Courtesy DS+R

The schematic design for the new Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive by New York-based architects Diller Scofidio+Renfro (DS+R) was unveiled at a community open house yesterday evening. Firm principal Charles Renfro presented the $100 million, 82,000 square foot proposal, which is about half the cost and size of the initial 2006 Toyo Ito design, scrapped back in 2009.

In the wake of uncertain budgets, museum and University of California officials decided to change the project from a ground up building on the site of the existing museum to a renovation and expansion of a 1939 UC Berkeley printing press complex, located in the Berkeley’s arts district. Ten architects were initially invited to submit proposals for the project, and DS+R was selected in 2010 as design architect, with San Francisco firm EHDD retained as architect of record.

The new DS+R scheme is smaller and more modest than its predecessor, repurposing the steel frame printing press structure with its north facing sawtooth skylights and exposed steel columns for the main galleries, and renovating the adjacent three-story office building as offices and classroom spaces. The two ground level galleries will be isolated from the exterior walls, appearing as floating trays.

The principal architectural gesture of the project is reserved for the 230-seat Film Archive theater along the northeast corner, which will be wrapped in zinc-ribbed cladding that extends to a second level café, cantilevered over the main Center Street museum entrance. Renfro explained that “we were interested in making precise and incisive engagements with the existing context, and just doing enough to contrast it, without ever overwhelming it.”

A second level cafe will cantilever over the museum’s main entrance (left); A small plaza will culminate in an outdoor movie screen (center, right).

The basement level will be excavated for lower level galleries, a film archive and library study center, a screening room, and mechanical and storage facilities. Significant attention will be given to the public aspect of the project. Similar to DS+R’s recent projects for the Broad Art Museum in Los Angeles and the Hypar Pavilion at Lincoln Center in New York, one edge of the building’s metal clad façade along Oxford Street will be tilted up to permit views into the exhibition spaces. The building’s existing opaque glass block façade along Center Street will be replaced with much larger plate glass windows fronting the museum shop.

one edge of the facade will be tilted up to permit views into the exhibition spaces; the former printing press’ open spaces will provide the structure for dramatic congregating spaces (right).

Community galleries and lounge spaces will be accessible without requiring entry into the paid gallery areas, and the north façade will be held back about 60 feet from the Addison Street edge, creating a sloped plaza that will front a large outdoor movie screen, an inverse of the screen on the interior side of the shell.

As an exercise in navigating the tricky waters of Berkeley politics and planning, the DS+R scheme seems successful so far. Berkeley mayor Tom Bates expressed his support for the project at the open house, stating that “it can’t happen too soon,” while state senator Loni Hancock said that it would be “a wonderful anchor for the arts district.” Public hearings for the project are still to be scheduled. Its completion is set for late 2015.