With its grand roof canopy and sweeping entry plaza, the Ed Roberts Campus welcomes everyone into its fold. The 82,500-square-foot building, which sits atop a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in a scruffy part of Berkeley, sends a powerful message of inclusiveness to the diverse groups of people who work in and use it, as well as the neighborhood around it and, indeed, the world beyond. As the new home of 10 organizations serving people with many different kinds of disabilities, the center caters to the specific needs of people who have been shut out of buildings in the past or brought in through the backdoor ramp. But its architecture speaks to everyone, using a design vocabulary that emphasizes the universal, rather than the particular.
Many people walking by or heading to the BART station have no idea the building provides offices and meeting spaces for groups helping individuals with special needs. That's exactly what these groups like about it. "We didn't want it to look institutional, like a hospital," states Dmitri Belser, executive director of the Center for Accessible Technology (CforAT) and president of the Ed Roberts Campus (ERC). Of the 10 tenant organizations, seven are ERC partners and serve on the board of directors. "We wanted it to be open to everyone," he explains. "Buildings that shut us off from others imply there's something shameful about having a disability," says Belser, who is legally blind. One piece of evidence pointing to the building's broad appeal is the story of a local couple with no disabilities who liked the place enough to rent it for their wedding in June.