The University of California at Berkeley is known worldwide as one of America’s leading centers of higher learning. It boasts an impressive faculty with more scientific discoveries and patents by its researchers than just about any other university in the world. The Berkeley campus is situated in the heart of the dense and diverse City of Berkeley. Sandwiched between The Bay, a greenbelt regional park and equally dense adjacent cities, there is hardly any free space for expansion. The net result is a housing market that has been impacted for decades. The University’s task to provide housing for its undergraduates is a daunting one. The University has little land of its own and usually must acquire land from private sources.
About 50 years ago the University acquired the Anna Head School, a private girls’ secondary school located in the South Campus area. The school occupied most of a city block and consisted of a very well worn collection of early 20th century Bay Shingle Style buildings. U.C. Residential and Student Services decided to take about half the property and erect a much needed dorm dedicated to sophomores. The University wanted a modern building that could meet the needs of 21st Century students and at the same time, make as small an environmental imprint as possible. They selected Behnisch Architekten to design the building.
Behnisch’s plan was a multi-faceted structure that integrated a wide variety of student functions and innovative dormitory types into one building. The first floor of the building was designed for meetings and student services with large, open lobbies that could double as concert or lecture spaces and smaller offices for counseling or tutoring. The dormitories were divided between standard multi student dorm rooms and two level loft apartments with built-in kitchens and living rooms. The architects wrapped the building in powder coated metal panels that subtly changed color as they moved up the building and a reclaimed, renewable hardwood that mirrored the existing shingle style buildings on the other side of the courtyard. 20 tons of lumber was harvested from the site and milled for interior finishes and benches. Several historic trees were saved and became a major part of the landscape theme. The building has no air-conditioning and heating is provided by roof-top thermal solar panels that circulate hot water through a radiator system. (Berkeley has a mild, Mediterranean climate.) Each floor of the residential units has multiple study rooms and lounges so that a student can work in a group just down the hall or escape his room to a well furnished and comfortable lounge.
A broad swath of design teams worked on the project to bring it to life. EDHH became the project architect overseeing the project’s construction and completion. Andrea Cochran and Associates did the simple but effective landscape work. IBE, Sandis, and Loisos did various parts of the engineering and lighting. The end result is a classy, highly energy efficient building that sits comfortably on a difficult site and provides a broad range of sorely needed services for the U.C.B. student community.