University Museum Plans Slash Downtown Parking

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 05, 2008 - 09:50:00 AM
A model of the planned Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive building as seen from campus, with University Avenue on the right and the proposed high rise hotel, condo tower and conference center to the rear.
A model of the planned Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive building as seen from campus, with University Avenue on the right and the proposed high rise hotel, condo tower and conference center to the rear.

While UC Berkeley’s new downtown museum may attract praise from architecture critics, downward-directed thumbs may come from those already frustrated with the hunt for downtown parking. 

Construction of the sparkling white steel-over-concrete edifice will mean demolition of the university’s parking structure at Oxford Street and Allston Way, with no replacement yet on the drawing boards. 

That was the word from two university officials who gave city planning commissioners an overview of the striking structure slated to rise at the northwest corner of the intersection of Center and Oxford streets. 

Rob Gayle, the university’s associate vice chancellor for Project Management, made the presentation, assisted by Jennifer McDougall, the university planner who is overseeing the project. 

The new facility will house the university’s Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, which just last month received a new director: Lawrence Robert Rinder, who has been serving as dean of the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland. Rinder previously served on the Berkeley museum staff between 1988 and 1998. 

Probable costs of $1,000 per square foot—mandated by the demands for a high security, innovative structure—mean the likely construction budget for the three-level museum will run between $100 million and $110 million, Gayle said. 

Commissioner Susan Wengraf raised the issue of parking, noting that the construction will entail demolition of the university’s current parking structure at southwest corner of Oxford and Addison streets. 

“In the early designs we talked about connecting that parking to the museum as well as the hotel, and now we’re losing both,” added commission Chair James Samuels. 

Acknowledging that construction will mean the loss of 250 existing spaces, Gayle said, “the big idea is to look at a much larger capacity structure at the site of University Hall, the high-rise building with the exterior skeleton that stands at the southwest corner of Oxford and University Avenue. 

“Will that parking be in place when the museum is completed?” asked Samuels. 

“We don’t think that’s likely,” said Gayle, who added that between 80 and 100 spaces at the site of the Department of Health Services across University Avenue might be available. The university plans to demolish that structure as well as part of its plan to add 800,000 square feet of new off-campus construction in downtown Berkeley. 

McDougall also noted that the city lot near Berkeley Repertory Theater also has seismic problems and may need replacement, further complicating the downtown parking picture. 

“Where are people going to park when the museum opens?” Samuels asked. 

“We are going to have some more conversations about that,” said Gayle, adding, “The site is very well served by public transportation.” That drew some subdued gasps from the audience. 

Wengraf noted that many museum events would be happening at night, when public transit schedules had tapered off. “People are still going to need to be coming in their cars,” she said. 

Gayle said university fee lots were generally largely vacant at nights and on weekends, “and patrons will have to pay wherever they park.” 

He didn’t mention the plan now being studied by the city manager’s office, to extend parking meter hours at downtown pay-and-display meters until 10 p.m. 


Museum details 

Gayle’s presentation featured an animated walk-through of Toyo Ito’s edifice, a structure dominated by curves and strikingly free of the planes and vertical walls of more mundane designs. 

While some have compared the proposed structure to an egg carton or the interior of a packing crate, the commission’s architects—Samuels and David Stoloff—had high praise for the design, embodied in the scale model the two university officials brought to the meeting. Commissioner Patti Dacey was more skeptical. 

Commissioners noted some changes from ideas university officials had floated earlier, including the possibility of access to the new hotel/ conference center/ condo tower the university has consigned to a Massachusetts hotelier to develop—though Gayle dodged commission questions about the state of that particular project. 

The museum also lacks the broad expanse of an exterior plane that could serve as a projection screen for films, another idea floated by university representatives in meetings with the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee. 

The university has already begun the process of selecting a general contractor, and the closing date for receiving prequalification applications was May. 20. 

The new building will feature: 

• 35,000 square feet of gallery space, 

• a 265-seat theater for film, 

• a second 135-seat venue for both film and lectures, 

• a 2,290-square foot museum shop, 

• 10,030 square feet of academic space and 

• 37,670 square foot of art gallery space. 

According to the university’s call for contractors, construction is currently planned to start April 2010 and continue for 30 months. 

The UC officials didn’t have answers when Poschman asked for an estimate of the number of daily visitors, though he said “there is an incentive to have a public meeting as the project develops, sometime in the fall probably,” to address traffic and other issues. 

Questioned by Commissioner Helen Burke, McDougall said the university has no plans to perform an environmental impact review on the project. “We expect to be able to approve it under the Long Range Development Plan,” the same document that sparked the lawsuit that will result in the new downtown plan. 

The building now at the site, the former UC Press printing plant, produced the first printed copies of the United Nations Charter when that organization was founded in San Francisco in 1945. 

Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission recognized the structure as an official city landmark in June 2004.  

Gayle didn’t give a definitive response to Samuels’ questions of whether the museum would display some of its sculpture collection in the landscaped crescent on the campus just across Oxford. Conceptual drawings, and the model shown commissioners featured sculptures in the area. 

“It’s definitely something that’s being contemplated” was Gayle’s final response.