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A Compass to Guide Campus Renewal

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
Posted September 29, 1999


In 1899, French architect Emile Bénard won an international competition to design the original master plan for the Berkeley campus. His plan featured an east-west axis, two large plazas, several towers and a neoclassical gymnasium. [Click to enlarge]

For only the second time in its 131-year history, Berkeley is creating a comprehensive master plan to guide future development.

A century ago, architects from around the world competed to create a master physical plan for a young institution envisioned as an "Athens of the West." This time around, the issue is renewal.

"We're an aging campus," Chancellor Berdahl, late last week, reminded 23 high-level administrators and others who have agreed to participate closely in developing the New Century Plan. "Our newest buildings are as old as the oldest ones on many other UC campuses. We cannot sustain our level of excellence without renewing."

Seismic Work with Vision

The master plan comes at a critical juncture, as the campus takes on a massive seismic retrofitting program.

City and Regional Planning Professor David Dowall, co-chairman of the new advisory committee, called the plan "one of the most important undertakings of the campus at this time.

"We really need to have a vision," said Dowall, "so we don't carry out seismic work as seismic only, but take the opportunity to renew and modernize the campus. Chancellor Berdahl recognized early on that we couldn't do the seismic work without a plan."

The New Century Plan should help the administration make strategic decisions on how best to spend its limited retrofitting dollars.

"We don't want to be fixing bad buildings," noted Judy Chess, planning projects manager for Physical and Environmental Planning. "We want to make sure that our seismic corrections are done in a way that also serves academic program needs and improves the quality of the campus."

"The legacy of place is something this chancellor really embraces," Chess said. "He wants to leave the Berkeley campus a better place after the retrofitting."

A "better place" would mean safe, state-of-the-art facilities for scholars and researchers, vital public spaces, adequate parking, convenient transportation, and campus or community housing that students and young faculty could afford.

Space is a critical factor. Berkeley's central campus, approximately 170 acres in size, "is tiny compared to other major campuses," noted Dowall. "We have a third to a quarter as much land. We are really constrained in terms of space."

If we do seismic retrofitting without looking at the larger picture, Dowall fears, "we could wake up in 20 years saying 'My God, what happened to the campus?'"

Planning Timeline

The master planning process began late last year with the selection of the HLW Strategies, a national consulting firm that specializes in strategic planning. Hundreds of campus constituents have since shared information and concerns with the consulting team.

The newly formed advisory committee will explore planning alternatives like increasing the density of development on the core campus or making more and better use of university properties in Richmond or along Oxford Street, just west of campus.

"It has potential to be a grand boulevard," Chess said of the Oxford Street corridor. "It could be a real place."

Case studies of potential development projects will help the campus test concepts developed in committee. One of the first will look at Lower Sproul Plaza and the buildings bordering it -- seismically "poor" Eshleman Hall, which houses student activities, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, which also needs substantial seismic upgrades.

"Right now Lower Sproul is generally ignored and underutilized," noted Associate Planner Heather Hood. "The primary entry to the campus at Telegraph and Bancroft is chaotic and unattractive and does not link to the community beyond. Imagine, instead, the plaza as a lively destination for all."

A Guiding Compass

When completed, sometime next year, the New Century Plan will serve not as a blueprint, but as a guiding compass for planning.

"When the plan is finished, a number of buildings will be prioritized for upgrade," said Eric Ellisen, manager of deferred maintenance and facilities renewal. Other buildings may be clear candidates for demolition. "It will help me to plan my program," noted Ellisen. "There's a very practical aspect of the plan."

Ellisen's enthusiasm is shared by many other across campus, including the chancellor himself, who before coming to Berkeley oversaw the creation of a master plan at University of Texas at Austin. "I came as a skeptic [of the process] and left as a real advocate," Berdahl recalled.

Said Chess: "This is an exciting opportunity for faculty and administrators to work together to shape our physical environment so that it truly supports the campus's intellectual life."

[Related Story: First Master Plan Hit Political Roadblock]



September 29 - October 5, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 8)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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