UC Abandons Ito’s Downtown Museum Design

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday November 19, 2009 - 09:35:00 AM

Citing “lingering economic uncertainty,” UC Berkeley announced Wednesday that it has abandoned existing architectural plans to construct a new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in downtown Berkeley. 

The university said it is currently modifying the $143 million museum project, designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, and that a review and detailed alternate plan is due next year. 

The Berkeley Art Museum is currently located in a seismically unsafe building on Bancroft Way. The structural unstability resulted in the film archive being moved across the street to temporary campus quarters in 1999. 

The university hired Toyo Ito and Associates in 2006 to design the new museum. Ito’s design received mixed reviews from the public but was generally supported in arts circles, and the university launched its $200 million fundraising campaign. 

However, university officials were able to raise only $81 million of the necessary $200 million. City of Berkeley Planning Commissioner Patricia Dacey told the Planet she hopes the university will continue to plan for a new museum but will choose a better design. 

“I felt that the design was an arrogant imposition on the context of our existing downtown,” she said. “It related to nothing around it—it just screamed ‘look at me.’” 

BAM/PFA Director Lawrence Rinder said in a press statement that the university and BAM/PFA “remain committed to building a new facility on university property at the corner of Center and Oxford streets,” the site of the proposed design. 

Rinder emphasized that the museum’s lead donors and trustees are still committed to the project and are taking the decision in stride.  

“While the architectural plans will change,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, “what will not change is our shared goal of building a dynamic, welcoming, and seismically safe new museum.” 

“In the current economic climate, modifying the project’s proposed scope and expense by moving on to a new design is the only way to ensure BAM/PFA remains on track for a new museum,” university and museum leaders said in a statement.