In the space of two days, UC Berkeley unveiled plans for a provocative new museum on Center Street, and a noted university landscape architect revealed his vision for the Center Street landscape it will face.
The university presented the UC Regents with plans by Japanese architect Toyo Ito for the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive building, which will occupy the eastern half of the block of Center between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street.
An architect with a growing international reputation, Ito has created a wavilinear design certain to provoke gapes of both admiration and indignation in a city where design issues have been known to provoke shouting matches at public meetings.
Wednesday night brought landscape architect Walter Hood to the Gaia Building, where he unveiled alternative visions for Center Street along the same block between Shattuck and Oxford.
Hood, who teaches at the university, was picked by EcoCity Builders and Friends of Strawberry Creek Plaza to come up with a design that would transform the block of city street into a pedestrian-friendly public space which would restore some of the creek that once flowed openly from the campus to the bay.
Kirstin Miller of EcoCity Builders, the non-profit that hired Hood in partnership with Friends of Strawberry Creek Plaza, said funds for the design have come from private donors, including a grant from the New Jersey-based Helen and William Mazer Foundation.
Hood said he began his design by monitoring the movement of people and vehicles on Center Street over a 24-hour timeframe, describing the process as a tidal flow that during the morning brings a stream of people into the campus, and reverses itself as the day wears on.
With the basic premise that through-vehicle traffic would end—with only emergency and delivery vehicles allowed onto the plaza and possibly some cars at night allowed for businesses with valet parking—the questions became “How do you keep this vitality?” and “How do you slow people down ... and make them aware of the context in which they live?”
Designs progressed from large-scale conceptions of the Strawberry Creek watershed from the hills to the bay, gradually focusing on the more immediate scale of the block itself, while embracing the nearby campus crescent and the Shattuck Avenue intersection and BART plaza across the avenue.
Hood experimented with a variety of design schemes, starting with 28, which were eventually pared to 14, which were finally reduced to three designs he called hybrids.
Because of the large expenses involved, Hood said none of the schemes calls for a full-scale “daylighting” of Strawberry Creek, a rechanneling and restoration of the waterway.
One possibility involves creation of a five-stage system of pools, while another reduces the presence of water to a fountain.
Elyce Judith of Friends of Strawberry Creek said advocates of the plaza are seeking a public site to exhibit the models in order to encourage community input before selecting a final design to take to the City Council.
She said the project might be funded with the help of some of the $5 billion in government funding that will be available for water treatment projects in the next one to three years.
Many members of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee were on hand for the event because creating a Center Street Plaza is a major element in the plan they crafted.
Hood’s concepts brought praise from members who had been on opposite sides of key issues during the planning process, as was the case with Chair Will Travis and member Jesse Arreguin.
Rob Wrenn wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, because, he said, rather than creating a plaza capable of holding large public gatherings, Hood said he had created designs to allow a number of simultaneous smaller gatherings.
Planning Commission Chair and DAPAC member James Samuels said he was concerned that the designs overlooked the opportunity to integrate the open space in front of the art museum.
While Toyo Ito’s designs for the museum weren’t on display at the plaza meeting, Samuels voiced high praise for his concept.
“I really like it,” said Samuels. “It’s a wonderful concept.”
Ito’s fame has grown in recent decades, and he has won major commissions from Asia to Europe, but the Berkeley museum is his first major commission in the U.S.
The Japanese architect’s designs vary dramatically from project to project, and have been described as “high concept” pieces.
His Senda Media Center in Japan was inspired by the sight of floating columns of seaweed, and the resulting design has drawn high praise from others in the field.
But his proposal for Berkeley is certain to draw fire from architectural traditionalists, as well as from members of the preservation community who are saddened that its construction will result in the demolition of the university printing plant where the first copies of the United Nations Charter were printed in 1946.
The new building, budgeted at $145 million, will house the museum and film center now housed in a seismically unsafe concrete structure on Bancroft Way.
In a press release issued Wednesday, university officials said fundraising was in its early stages. No action was required of the regents this week, since they have already approved the project.
The board Committee on Grounds and Buildings also voted to approve two major projects on the Berkeley campus.
The board approved designs and the environmental impact report for Campbell Hall, authorizing construction of a replacement for the seismically unsafe building, and it voted to authorize a $90 million budget for an infill building that will be constructed in the courtyard of the university’s law school, until last year known as Boalt Hall.