Lower Sproul Redevelopment
Town Meets Gown: With a renovation and a new building, a university redefines an important plaza and establishes a stronger connection between campus and the city.
Architects & Firms
University of California, Berkeley
The four buildings and two outdoor spaces that define Upper and Lower Sproul Plaza and together constitute the Student Center at the University of California, Berkeley, were a veritable minefield for any architect or university administrator thinking of redeveloping the area. Step on the wrong spot and an explosion of protest would surely erupt. After all, this was where the Free Speech Movement began in 1964, setting off an era of student activism on campuses around the country. More than four decades later, as the 2008 recession deepened, students at U.C. Berkeley were again angry, this time over tuition increases. Messing with the school’s Student Center would not be easy.
“It’s a layered place and for almost 60 years has been an epicenter of cultural tensions,” says Buzz Yudell, a partner at Moore Ruble Yudell (MRY), which developed in 2008 a new master plan for the complex and designed a set of renovations and additions to it. After hundreds of meetings with student organizations and diverse stakeholders from the university and the city, MRY devised a plan to tear down Eshleman and replace it with a new building, renovate MLK and expand it on its lower levels, and redesign the lower plaza. A previous effort to redevelop the complex had come with an estimated price tag of about $600 million, says Yudell. MRY’s scheme, which retained more of the existing buildings, would cost $156 million to build. The lower cost and the architects’ time-consuming process of involving diverse groups in the planning persuaded students to vote in favor of an increase in their student activities fees to pay for the project, a significant achievement at a time of belt-tightening.
“We started with the notion that this was a place worth saving,” says Yudell. While the earlier scheme called for tearing down the MLK Student Union, as well as Eshleman Hall, MRY’s plan keeps MLK and updates it with expanded spaces for a “campus living room” and a multicultural community center on the street level, and a new dining commons on the lower, plaza level. The scheme also adds a new campus store on the critical south edge where the city meets the university at Bancroft Way, helping to establish a stronger link between town and gown. In the past, MLK was set back from Bancroft, but now the store connects it directly to the street and the city beyond.
The new Eshleman Hall also reaches out to the city with restaurants on the street level and a two-story arcade ushering pedestrians directly to Lower Sproul Plaza. Three stories lower than the old Eshleman and more porous, the new five-story building connects rather than blocks. Its upper floors provide space for student organizations, including senate chambers on the top with excellent views to the plaza and campus.
By expanding the base of MLK and deepening the footprint of Eshleman, MRY reduced the size of the lower plaza. “It was too big before,” says Mario Violich, the design principal in charge of the project, “and wasn’t as active as it could have been.” While respecting the spirit of Halprin’s design, MRY added more planters for shade and built a new set of stairs and a zig-zagging ramp to connect the lower plaza to the upper one. A new outdoor stair on MLK also strengthens this link.
By inserting discrete pieces to an existing complex and opening up pathways to its surroundings, MRY exercised a form of architectural acupuncture on Berkeley’s Student Center. And by knowing where to push and where not to step, the firm navigated a dangerous political terrain that might have derailed a less sensitive plan.
Gross square footage: 266,700 square feet
Total project cost: $223,000,000
Completion Date: August 2015
Total construction cost: $156,197,000
Client: Associated Students of the University of California and University of California, Berkeley
Owner: Regents of the University of California
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Civil: Sherwood Design Engineers
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Vertical Transportation: Syska Hennessy Group
Landscape: CMG Landscape Architecture
Lighting: Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design
Acoustical: Charles M. Salter Associates, Inc.
Architectural Support: Noll & Tam Architects and Planners, Glaserworks Architecture & Urban Design
Waterproofing: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.
Food Service: RAS Design Group
Sustainability: Atelier Ten
Graphics & Signage: Sussman/Prejza & Company, Inc.
Hardware: Finish Hardware Technology
Specifications: Gary Barnett Specifications
Fire & Life Safety: Jensen Hughes
General contractor: McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.
Rainscreen: NBK Architectural Terracotta
Curtain wall: Overgaard Ltd. and C/S Erectors, Inc.
Other cladding unique to this project
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Floor and wall tile:
Photovoltaic system: Sun Edison
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: Cistern