UC’s Tien Center Could Obscure Haviland Hall, Destroy Observatory Hill

Tuesday June 29, 2004

Editors, Daily Planet: 

In his article “ Regents miss the point of Cal project” (San Francisco Chronicle, June 10), John King takes the UC Regents to task for criticizing the design of the proposed Chang-Lin Tien Center for East Asian Studies. 

King admits that “the regents are right to be vigilant: The building would be located along the north edge of the newish Memorial Glade, directly across from Doe Library, one of Cal’s truly revered landmarks. It’s a timeless location that deserves equally timeless architecture.”  

However, King believes that the architects selected, Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, are in themselves an unassailable guarantee of greatness, certain to give us “ a meticulous masterpiece—a subdued but fitting neighbor to Doe Library that glows with life and thought.”  

In summation, King offers “ Today’s architecture lesson: Don’t judge a building by how it looks on paper.”  

Very true. And don’t judge a building independently of its proposed site. 

Quite apart from the architectural considerations, the Tien Center project must be judged in the context of the surrounding historic, cultural, and natural resources in the UC campus central glade. 

Even the rosiest architectural renderings can’t hide the fact that Haviland Hall (John Galen Howard, 1924), which like the Doe Library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be obscured from view, hemmed in, and trivialized when the Tien Center becomes its immediate neighbor. 

Placing the Tien Center next to Haviland Hall flouts Policy 3.1 in the Campus Architecture Strategic Goals: “ Projects within the Classical Core shall enhance the integrity of this ensemble, and complement rather than compete with existing historic buildings.” If the project goes forward as planned, the Tien Center will not only compete with Haviland Hall but overshadow it completely. 

Another key resource in the immediate area is the historic Observatory Hill, one of the best natural enclaves on campus. Large portions of the hill (including some of its most picturesque spots) are destined for extinction when the Tien Center is built. 

The Tien Center Library’s orientation at a 90-degree angle to Haviland Hall (instead of being oriented diagonally to it, conforming with the perimeter of the Haviland parking lot) would intrude unnecessarily into the southeastern part of Observatory Hill, where a number of mature specimen trees are to be found. The monumental plaza and steps planned for the east end of the Tien Library would destroy even more of the hill. Phase 2, if it is built as planned, would do away with almost the entire western flank of the hill—a tragic loss to the campus and to the Berkeley community. 

Everything about the design and the siting of the Tien Center flies in the face of CEQA and the stated goals of the campus New Century Plan. A site far more suitable for conserving natural resources would be the parking lot behind Dwinelle Hall, which is slated for in-fill in the 2020 LRDP. 

Since UC is determined to accord the Tien Center a prominent place in Memorial Glade, it might want to consider this suggestion: 

Sometimes, moving a department is preferable to the loss of key resources. If the School of Social Welfare (housed in Haviland Hall) were to move to another location (the parking lot behind Dwinelle Hall, for example, or the spaces at Durant and Dwinelle halls currently occupied by the Tien Center), Haviland Hall would make an excellent and prominent new home for the Tien Center. 

With Tien at Haviland, a smaller second building could be constructed on the Haviland parking lot. If this second building were to oriented not at 90 degrees to Haviland but at an angle conforming to the existing parking lot, and if its entrance were repositioned to eliminate the proposed monumental plaza and steps, Observatory Hill would go untouched, and Haviland Hall would retain the prominence it deserves. 


Daniella Thompson lives just north of the current boundary of the UC Berkeley campus.