Saturday, July 31, 2010

Haviland Hall


One thing I like about the neoclassical buildings on campus, like Haviland Hall, is the attention paid to details like this medallion above the main entry. In addition to photography, 94708 is a prompt to reviving watercolors, which I haven't done since childhood. A highly speculative rendering of the same entry is shown below.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Elbow Lake

Last weekend, 94708 ventured to Battle Lake, Minnesota (via Fargo) for a family reunion. The last day of the visit featured a stay on Elbow Lake, in a 1920-era summer house built by a J.P. Morgan heiress from St. Louis. Now a B&B called Xanadu Island, it's owned by a former architect, originally from Florida, who ran (and sold) a small but successful restaurant chain. He winters in Jackson Hole. Both the house and the lake are gorgeous, but the mosquitoes, which appear at night, are industrial strength. They ignored repellent and clothing. Good screens worked, though, thank goodness. More local posts will soon follow, but wanted to share this. Wish I had a recording of the cry of the loons, a waterbird that frequents the lake. Quite spooky!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wesley House

Normally, I'm not a huge fan of so-called genre buildings, but this one - designed by Kirk Peterson - is well done. Peterson is better known for the projects he did for Patrick Kennedy and the Kennedy offshoot that developed the monster with a Trader Joe's on its ground floor at the northwest corner of MLK. That project makes the Gaia Building look like a model of sensitivity. Unlike both of them, this one is in scale with surrounding buildings and harmonious in appearance. Kudos to the church next door that presumably sponsored it. (It's located across from Haas Pavilion at Bancroft and Dana.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Arch St. Friary

Another example of the presence of organized religion in North Berkeley is the recently renovated home of the Capuchin Franciscans on the west side of Arch Street north of Cedar. The friars, if that's what they're called, are noticeable for their long robes with rope ties. Are they affiliated with the Franciscan School of Theology on Euclid, nearer to campus? I'm not sure. Something wonderful, though, about having friars in your midst, like the Buddhist monks I sometimes see on BART, dressed in traditional clothing. Other than the sign, the Capuchin Franciscans' dwelling place looks like a two-story apartment building, which indeed it is.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Porosity, e.g.

Tolman Hall, which I believe was designed by the office of the late John Carl Warnecke, is not one of UCB's most distinguished buildings, but it is a model of how to provide porosity (that word again) at an important point of access between the campus and community: raising the building up on pilotis (as architects call free-standing columns that support the occupied building above - a favorite motif of the Swiss-French early modernist, Le Corbusier). I often walk under this portal when I cross the campus, as it faces Arch Street, my usual route. In another post, I'll show how the south wall of the main quad at the UCSF Research Campus at Mission Bay fails to provide any porosity at all - something I believe will be regretted later when a new hospital is in place across 16th Street to the south. It's an uncivil gesture to wall a campus off. Traditional academic quadrangles provided numerous ways in, with their buildings forming courtyards or walks that are part of what makes them memorable. The Haas School of Business, one of the last works of Charles Moore (with an L.A. offshoot that went on to design the new Temple Beth-El), maintains this impulse, one saving grace in a building that feels about 20 percent too large and about 20 percent too dumbed down from Moore's doubtlessly more interesting initial vision. (Moore is better known locally for the Sea Ranch Condominiums, designed with another incarnation, MLTW.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Warren Obverse

Here's the south half of Warren Hall viewed from the east. It's not quite as massive on this side, making use of the slope. It has what architects call a layered facade, meant to create some visual interest across a long expanse of unbroken mass. I didn't look closely enough to see if the ground floor has a two-sided entry. It probably does. That gives the building a bit of porosity, as architects also say - meaning that you can pass through the building rather than having to walk around it. Of course, that passage will probably be reserved for the occupants much of the time. There's another building nearby, which I'll show in a separate post, that handles this in a more public-spirited way. Given the antipathy toward science of some activists, the ability to walk under a building, let alone through it, may now be regarded as out of bounds.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sweet Heart

While walking across campus today, I saw this heart in the midst of the eucalyptus grove to the north of the path that runs along the south fork of Strawberry Creek (toward Center Street). It looks like someone's (or some team's) art project, but it's quite striking (and worth a look). Although I thought initially it was all Tibetan ghost-catcher flags, it includes photos and snippets of text. The best place to spot it is the path that runs along the west side of the microbiology building that's attached to the old (but now renovated) Life Science Building. Walking south on that path, you'll see it about halfway.

Palace of Culture

Well worth a walk across campus, this building, roughly across from lower Sproul Plaza and Zellerbach Hall at 2430 Bancroft, west of the Telegraph intersection, houses two cultural landmarks, Musical Offering and University Press Books. The former includes that increasingly rare commodity, a classical music CD shop, and a cafe. The latter is a superb bookstore. Both are owned by two overlapping partnerships, representing the worlds of academe, literature, music (the making and the playing), and publishing. The cafe of late has turned out some great dishes. When I stopped in this afternoon, a string quartet was performing in the corner table (the leftmost window facing the street). Musical Offering's current newsletter has an interview with the new Cal Performances director that's well worth reading. One can become a "Friend of UPB" for an absurdly modest cost. This Palace of Culture deserves support, as few businesses are under greater threat now than independent bookstores, which are pressured by Amazon, e-books, and horrific terms of trade. Yet, unlike its digital competitors, one can peruse the books and make informed decisions. One can also hear talks by writers and even join in UPB's Slow Dinners, which invite guests to read their own work. Highly, highly recommended.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Warren Hall


Warren Hall's replacement may have a different name - I didn't get close enough to the sign to see. I believe that the architect is SmithGroup, a mega-firm from Detroit that bought the local firm Stone, Marraccini & Patterson (later SMP - the spelling of the full name is from memory). In its new guise, it's continued to focus on hospitals and labs. The design quality of its work is better than it was. Back in the day, SMP was responsible for the USPS Building near the Oakland West BART Station, and other monsters. That era is mercifully over, although of course the buildings linger. The State Health Building's demise may be a sign of the times: they're also tearing down 1960s and 1970s relics in England. They have their defenders, but there's no getting around their ugliness. It's still too early to say if the Warren Hall replacement is a success. The old Warren Hall was a modest affair. This is much bigger, with a look that says "SCIENCE" (all those filters on the roof). As mentioned below, university lab buildings tend toward bland. Will this one? As an aside, I visited the SMP office on Bay St. in SF in 1971. It was in a former Safeway - rows of desks organized in two halves, with a traffic cop at the front. It reminded me of a slave galley. In those days, big firms were made up of acres of draftsmen. At SOM, where I worked briefly, there was a movement to unionize. I'm sure it was going on at SMP, too. It scared the hell out of the firms, and working conditions improved significantly shortly thereafter. The nascent union ("Organization of Architecture Employees") didn't make it, but it made a difference. (The new building is on the east side of Oxford between University and Berkeley Way.)

Opus Dei

Presumably because of Holy Hill*, buildings with religious affiliation dot the area north of the Berkeley campus. This one (the parking lot included) is Opus Dei. I met one of its members and had dinner with him and others several years ago. They would like to expand to the south, taking over what was once a Texaco station, if memory serves - the scene of an extended environmental cleanup that some regarded as a waste of time and Texaco's money. (I have no opinion on this. I'm just reporting what I heard.) Despite the cleanup, the land lay fallow before Opus Dei bought it, even with a university across the street. It got some economic benefit from the construction boom at the northwest corner of the campus - and still does, judging from the pickup trucks. 

*: Holy Hill includes the Graduate Theological Union and the Pacific School of Religion, which are centered around the Le Conte, Scenic and Ridge Road intersection. Opus Dei is near the northeast corner of Hearst and Oxford.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bits & Pieces

The old State Health Building is now just a pile of rubble, I discovered. On the south side of the block, there was a lot of activity clearing away the remnants. This view is from Oscar's (northwest corner of Hearst and Shattuck), looking southeast. University Hall is in the disance. Wonder when that will come down? Not in my lifetime, I'd wager, unless an earthquake tests that X-bracing to the breaking point. So Helios, a UCB-BP joint venture, will soon rise from the rubble. As previously mentioned, the rendering suggests it will resemble the Warren Hall replacement across the street. That's not unlike the UCSF Research Campus at Mission Bay in San Francisco. University science facilities tend to look alike - sort of suburban, to my eye. Wrapped around a lot of technical stuff, even the ones designed by top architects seem to get dumbed down ("value engineered" is the euphemism). The bloom is a little off the BP rose, too, but that's another story.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Former Beth-El

From this view, the former Temple Beth-El at Vine and Arch looks more Italianate than from the outside. This is the main entry from the garden, formerly the playground and occasional campground of Camp Kietov, where my kids absorbed the songbook before graduating to Camp Unalayee. The temple's renovation is pretty clever, stuffing a lot of program (it's now the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology) into the original envelope. To its credit, the school kept the large, west-facing windows and the overall feel of a building that owes a debt to the early modern architect Erich Mendelsohn, who lived and practiced in San Francisco during and after World War II. Best known for the expressionist Einstein Tower in Potsdam, he was also a sought-after designer of department stores until the Nazis arrived. Despite his fame, he struggled to get work here. Since Beth-El moved to Spruce Street, my sense of the Jewish liturgical year has slipped away. I miss the kids, but the temple's new site is a better place for them.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bakery Mural

Someone mentioned this mural, and then I saw it while out walking. It's on the south wall of the building that houses Virginia Bakery. The impulse to do murals is not one I've ever shared, but they have a long and sometimes distinguished history. This one appears apolitical, although it's probably too early to be sure. The Virginia Bakery is also an acquired taste - again, not mine, but it has a devoted following, from what I can tell. My kids were once devotees, steering me in its direction. I can't eat Big Macs now, either. (Update: the mural is coming along, but there's an ad seeking donations.)

Small Moves

This used to be a dog and cat clinic. Designed by Berkeley architect-builder Fred Hyer, it's a good use of a really narrow site. My impression is that it's a remodel of that building, although a radical one, but I didn't look at it closely enough while it was underway to say for sure. I'm glad the designer opted to make a strong visual contrast from Cafe Gratitude to the south. I didn't notice until I looked at the photo that it riffs on the 1960s "box" apartment building behind it. A translucent scrim on the glazing that faces the street now gives it privacy, while it's open to the courtyard-like driveway. It's being used as an office by the owner, Scott Robinson of Robinson Real Estate.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Barry Elbasani, 1941-2010

Barry Elbasani, FAIA, a founder of ELS, the Berkeley-based architecture firm that designed the Recreational Sports Facility at UC Berkeley and renovated a building on Berkeley Way below Oxford to house UC Press, died of brain cancer on 29 June. A North Berkeley resident, he was first hospitalized over the Christmas holidays. ELS employed a number of my friends. (One of them, Kenneth Caldwell, just published an interview he did with Elbasani in 2009.) The RSF has held up well, and the UC Press renovation is a model for how to do a lot with not much of a budget at all. Alan Oshima, a wonderful designer, did the color work on both buildings. The poster here is by David Goines, a wonderful designer himself. Goines, whose studio is on MLK, has long been in demand to capture and commemorate local prominence.(Update: attended Elbasani's memorial on Sunday, 18 July 2010, and learned much more about this remarkable man, best known locally for the Berkeley Repertory Theater, where the memorial was held.)

Peet's Update

My neighbor, Sally Woodbridge, tells me that Mr. Peet's original store was on Polk Street in San Francisco - she used to buy coffee beans from him there in the 1950s. So the "Original Peet's" on Vine St. was not actually the first. Sally has her own interesting blog (sponsored by our mutual SF friend, Robin Chiang), continuing the work that she began as the West Coast correspondent of Progressive Architecture. A recent blog post describes the incredible landfill operation that she and I discussed earlier today, apropos the State Health Building's demolition. Sally is probably best known locally for the guides to Bay Area architecture that she's coauthored since the 1960s.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Oxford Tract

Farms in Berkeley? (Sorry, a little obvious.) The Oxford Tract is an agricultural testing ground. Judging from what's been planted in the past, performance in dry weather is the issue. There's a mix of crops this year, rather than the rows upon rows of corn I used to see. It's remarkable to me that the tract has survived, given the university's appetite for building sites. A few years ago, a three-story surge building was added at the south end, along Hearst. Separated by greenhouses and other plant biology buildings (if that's what they are), it isn't really noticeable until you near the Oxford/Hearst corner. On the north end, EBMUD put in a pumping station. To EBMUD's credit, the student garden on that end was mostly preserved. It provides a visual buffer and an amenity for the apartment houses that face it. The pumping station is more sensitively designed than the surge building in terms of fitting in. Although it's fenced off along the street, it's good to have this agricultural remnant as part of the local terrain. It feels vulnerable, even more so now that Helios is going up on the south side of Hearst. I hope it survives as it is.