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.

Designed collaboratively by architects Vernon DeMars, Donald Hardison, Don Reay, and Richard Komatsu, along with landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, and built in phases during the late 1950s and early ‘60s, the Student Center complex includes the Martin Luther King, Jr., Student Union; Eshleman Hall, where student organizations have their offices; Cesar Chavez Hall, with its mix of dining and student services; and Zellerbach Hall, a performing arts center. Over the course of nearly six decades, the needs of students had changed and the buildings at the Student Center hadn’t always kept up. In addition, Lower Sproul Plaza had never worked well as a social space, separated from Upper Sproul on the east by a set of stairs and from the city of Berkeley on the south by the tower-like form of Eshleman Hall.

“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

Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners
933 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90405
310-450-1400 (o)
310-450-1403 (f)

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Buzz Yudell – Partner (Registered Architect, AIA)
Mario Violich – Principal in Charge, Design Principal (Registered Architect, AIA)
Jeanne Chen – Collaborating Principal (Registered Architect, AIA)
Stanley Anderson – Associate Principal, Interiors (Registered Architect, AIA, IIDA)

Project Team:
Alise Romero – Designer
Amy Hellmund – Architect (Registered Architect, AIA)
Caryn Grape - Designer
Clay Holden – Architect (Registered Architect, AIA)
Ellen Riingen – Designer
Eric Tecza – Architect (Registered Architect, AIA)
Jason Pytko – Designer
Kentaro Yamada – Designer
Kaoru Orime - Designer
Lani Lee – Architect (Registered Architect, AIA)
Martin Saavedra – Designer
Richard Destin – Architect (Registered Architect, AIA)
Ruth Ortega – Designer
Tristan Hall - Designer

Structural (and Geotechnical):  Rutherfod + Chekene

Civil:  Sherwood Design Engineers

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Vertical Transportation:  Syska Hennessy Group

Audio-Visual, Security, Data:  TEECOM

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.

Bruce Damonte Photography



Structural system
Eshleman – Special reinforced concrete shear walls
MLK Jr. Student Union – Special reinforced concrete shear wall (new construction) and Ordinary reinforced concrete shear walls, selectively strengthened with carbon fiber composite system (existing construction)
Plaza & Garage – Existing concrete columns and girders acting as a moment frame system that were strengthened with carbon fiber composite system

Exterior cladding
Metal Panels: Overgaard Ltd, C/S Erectors Inc. and Pohl Inc. of America

Rainscreen: NBK Architectural Terracotta

Curtain wall: Overgaard Ltd. and C/S Erectors, Inc.

Other cladding unique to this project
Concrete & Board-formed concrete: McCarthy Building Companies and McClone Construction Company

Other: Sarnafil (pvc roofing)

Glass: Viracon

Entrances: Kawneer

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Eurospan: Stretch Systems
Ecophon Focus Ds
Armstrong Ultima and Soundscape
Texaa: Aeria

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Custom architectural, casework and millwork: NWD Inc

Wall coverings:
Xorel: Meteor
Texaa: Aeria

Forms + Surfaces: Stainless Steel

Plastic laminate:
Formica: Microdot

Special surfacing:
Richlite: Stratum, Cascade, Northwest
Cosentino: Eco

Floor and wall tile:
Concrete Collaborative: (Bear’s Lair Pub, coffee bar, concierge desk, flooring)
Heath Tile: (drinking fountain)
Mosa Tile: (restrooms)
Salvaged Old Growth Redwood (at Raingarden boardwalk)

Interface: Urban Retreat, Net Effect,
Chilewich: Stripe
Flor: Rake Me Over

Office furniture:
Steelcase: Answer & Frame One

Fixed seating:
Sedia Systems: M60 Swing Away, with Humanscale Liberty Chairs

Steelcase/ Coalesse: Sidewalk Lounge Chair, Sidewalk Lounge Sofa, Visalia Lounge Chair, Visalia Bench, Bob Lounge Chair, Leap Task Chair, Jersey Guest Chair, Max-Stacker, Circa, Scoop Stool
Fritz Hansen: Grand Prix Chair
Humanscale: Liberty Chair
Janus et Cie: Green Side Chair Interior

Janus et Cie Seating: Green 2.0 Side Chair, Dolce Vita Side Chair
Janus et Cie Tables: Dolce Vita, Teak Table Top with Moscato Table Base
Benches: Salvaged Monterey Cypress

Steelcase / Coalesse: Sidewalk Occasional Table, Bob Occasional Table, Circa Wedge Table, Tree’s Beveled Tables, Enea Table, Universal Worksurfaces, Ginko Biloba Conference, Runner Table, Ballet Table
Janus et Cie: Thin Edge Table top Moscato Table Base

Designtex: Isotope, Transport, Appleseed,
Maharam: Micro, Ottoman Stripe, Rule, Drape
Carnegie: Maxwell Street
Humanscale: Pinstripe Mesh, Lotus
Steelcase: Buzz2, Steelcase Mesh, Seating Vinyl

Other furniture:
Steelcase / Coalesse: Mobile Whiteboard, Exponents Lectern

Energy management or building automation system:  ALC

Photovoltaic system: Sun Edison

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:  Cistern