Landmarks Commission Weighs in On Residence’s Historic Status

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 04, 2008 - 09:50:00 AM

The Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission will review a nomination Thursday to place the Donald and Helen Olsen House in Berkeley on the National Register of Historic Places and will prepare a report on whether or not the property meets the standards of the list. 

The application, submitted by UC Berkeley architecture students Kate Lyndon, Jaclyn Dab, Tiffany Monk and Bruce Judd, principal at the San Francisco-based architecture firm Architecture Resources Group, will be taken up by the State Historical Resources Commission on Jan. 27, 2009. 

Designed by Donald Olsen in 1954, the building is a single-family residence in the Modernist style, which epitomizes the international style made popular in Europe by architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier and according to the applicants, “displays the geometries, ethos, strict formalism and rigor that embody the utopian style.” 

The nomination states that the building’s smooth facades, flat roof, boxy volume, cantilevered form, extensive fenestration and lack of ornamentation is reflective of the Miesian ideals reminiscent of the international style of Modernism. 

Straddling a wedge-shaped lot at 771 San Diego Road, the house is bounded by a creek to the north and a sloped hill to the east. Its main floor is raised over the ground level and was originally built to provide the residents with breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, now obscured by trees. 

The applicants claim in the nomination that because of its style ethos, setting and materials, the Donald and Helen Olsen House should be considered one of the several architecturally significant Modernist houses in Berkeley today, which stands out because of its Miesian ideals.