Oxford Plaza Opens, Brower Center Near Completion

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday March 25, 2009 - 06:32:00 PM
The Brower Center, right, will house nonprofits, while Oxford Plaza, left, will provide affordable housing.
Richard Brenneman
The Brower Center, right, will house nonprofits, while Oxford Plaza, left, will provide affordable housing.

Workers are busy putting the finishing touches on downtown Berkeley’s two newest buildings, the David Brower Center and Oxford Plaza.  

Tenants have already moved into Oxford Plaza—the city’s newest and largest affordable housing structure—while next door to the north, workers are polishing off the last details of the Brower Center, the city’s greenest building, named for the Berkeley native who is ranked as one of the founders of the modern environmental movement. 

And beneath the two structures just across Oxford Street from the UC Berkeley campus, the public is already parking in the underground lot built to replace the surface parking demolished to make way for the new bulidings. The lot’s 99 spaces replace most of the 130 spaces of the surface lot, but parking is pricier, with the old $2 flat charge after 5 p.m. doubled to four bucks. 

The parking structure is open from 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. Rates range from $1 for an hour to $3 for two hours and $15 for five, with a $25 charge for events like football and basketball games and graduations. 

New residents began moving into Oxford Plaza last month. The building will house 97 tenants selected from a lottery that attracted more than 3,400 applicants, according to Resources for Community Development (RCD), the project’s non-profit developer. 

Oxford Plaza is unusual for Berkeley affordable housing projects in that it offers a range of units, ranging from studios to three-bedroom units. Maximum incomes for eligible tenants range from $12,060 for individuals to $51,660 for families of four. 

Based on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, RCD has built more than 1,500 affordable apartments since the company was chartered in 1984. They will welcome the public to a grand opening at the building on June 11. 


Brower Center  

The Brower Center will be Berkeley’s greenest building, as befits a structure built in honor of its namesake. Its unusual nature is apparent from the swooshing framework that tops the structure like a flamboyant crown. 

In addition to shading the building’s upper floors, the structure also supports arrays of photovoltaic panels that power the center’s low-energy lighting, elevators and other electrical and electronic hardware. 

The building already has one tenant, center Executive Director Amy Tobin, who moved into her office March 11. 

The center has been built to specifications that Tobin says are certain to win the highest rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System. 

“Usually, green building designers think about the bigger elements, but in this building, we have thought about all of it,” Tobin said. 

Everything from the carpeting—made with recycled components and itself fully recyclable and donated by the manufacturer, Interface—to the dark flecks in the center’s concrete—bits of slag left over from the steel smelting process—are testaments to the builder’s commitment to embody Brower’s aspirations. 

The building is structured around two basic concepts, with the upstairs providing offices (hopefully all for environmental organizations) while the ground floor is dedicated to community events, with a theater and a restaurant—Terrain—that will specialize in locally produced foods. 

The colorful wood evident on many of the walls is Plyboo, a form of plywood made from readily grown bamboo, while the wall fabrics were selected from non-toxic materials that don’t generate off-gassing. 

And even the windows are green in the most old-fashioned sense: They open, bringing in fresh air. 

Another unique feature of the building is a rainwater capture system that stores the runoff in cisterns beneath the building for use in flushing the toilets—but not the urinals in the men’s’ rooms, which are the first waterless devices of their kind to be installed in the city. 

Throughout the building, sensors register when someone walks into an empty room and turns on the lights, while the upper floor sensors also turn off the lights when they detect enough illumination so that they’re not needed. 

“The offices are healthy for people, which isn’t always the case for offices nonprofits can afford,” she said. 

The building offers no parking for its tenants, who are expected to take public transit, bike or walk to work, and for cyclists, there are showers to freshen up after strenuous rides. 

Members of the public are invited to a free open house from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 10, two days after a Friday evening $20-per-person housewarming party.