Click here to bypass page layout and jump directly to story.=

UC Berkeley >

University of California

News Extras






  Press Releases

  Image Downloads



Embracing opportunities presented by facilities enhancement

By Harrison Fraker Jr.

Renewing the Foundations of Excellence

Harrison Fraker Jr.Next to complaints about parking, nothing can produce a wry smile or invoke a "horror story" faster from faculty than their dealings with physical facilities. Complaints about costs and how long it takes to get things done are legion. Even our chancellor has been known to tell tales about his experience with our facilities. As a faculty member and dean who has come from outside the UC system and who, as an architect and chairman of the campus Design Review Committee, has watched the campus struggle with the challenges of our physical facilities, let me offer the following observations.

During past budget-cutting cycles, the campus has maintained its excellence by protecting the faculty at the expense of staff and facilities - an understandable strategy - but one that has its costs. Too often, the approach to facilities has been dominated by a perception that they are a "free" commodity - provided by the state - a nuisance that is tolerated in pursuit of the academic mission. In this frame of mind, it is hard to imagine faculty perceiving facilities as assets that must be cared for and enhanced. This attitude puts our facilities at odds with the standards of excellence, which we apply to the recruiting and retention of faculty and students.

The seismic safety needs of our buildings and infrastructure have brought into sharp focus how much we have let our facilities slip in terms of their deferred maintenance, but more fundamentally, in how important they are to our academic teaching and research missions.

Recognition of the critical need to renew our facilities presents a tremendous challenge, beyond the staggering costs, because it represents institutional and cultural change. The chancellor has already begun the process by creating a new position of vice chancellor for capital projects (filled by Edward Denton); hired a new campus architect, Langston Trigg; and both have begun the task of reorganizing and revitalizing planning, design and construction on campus.

While problems still exist with some of the projects begun before these changes, the signs of improvement are encouraging. A carefully developed process for identifying, approving, budgeting, financing and managing capital projects has been put in place. It promises to bring budgets more carefully in line with the scope of projects. It establishes clear milestones for approvals and accountability. Most importantly, it will articulate all of the project costs and benchmark them against the standards of the industry. In addition, there are improved efforts to hire the best consultants, planners, architects, engineers, and so on for each job. As chairman of the Design Review Committee, I have seen marked improvements in the organization, logic and quality of the projects brought before our committee under this new regime.

But the campus has only seen the beginning of what will probably be the largest, most protracted and expensive facilities renewal effort in the campus's history. For it to succeed, faculty attitudes will have to change. Faculty will have to see facilities as a real asset, essential to the core mission. The faculty will have to be patient with the new process for capital projects and yet demanding of it. Most importantly, the faculty will need to engage the multiple efforts under way, from the facilities master plan to the nitty-gritty seismic correction efforts, through faculty Senate committees charged with identifying the academic mission for facilities, to participating in individual building committees and surge committees. For the campus to succeed, the faculty, students and staff must have facilities that match the standards of excellence we apply to our teaching and research. This is going to take real commitment, participation and change in the idea that facilities are somebody else's responsibility.

One hundred years ago, Phoebe Hearst set a standard of excellence by sponsoring an international competition for the plan of the Berkeley campus, which attracted the vision and imagination of the world's best architects of the time. While the challenges of a modern research university are very different today, the standard of excellence for our facilities should not change. As it was 100 years ago, it is a matter of vision and imagination that the faculty must bring to bear on the challenge.

Harrison Fraker Jr., FAIA, is the William W. Wurster Professor and dean of the College of Environmental Design.

Renewing the Foundations of Excellence home

Source: Berkeleyan Special Issue, Fall 2000