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    The Memorial Gallery of UC Berkeley's Hearst Memorial Mining Building, reopened in September 2002 after an extensive seismic retrofit and renovation project, is one of the campus's most striking architectural structures. Photo courtesy University Archives, Bancroft Library

Historic UC Berkeley building, once home to mining studies, reopens Sunday to new era of materials science and engineering research

18 September 2002

By Sarah Yang, Media Relations

Berkeley - When the Hearst Memorial Mining Building at the University of California, Berkeley, first opened in 1907, the study of mining was vital to the campus and the nation. At a rededication ceremony this Sunday (Sept. 22), 95 years later, the building's doors will reopen to new frontiers in materials science and engineering research.

Following a four-year seismic upgrade and renovation project, they also will reveal the campus's painstaking preservation of an historic, Beaux Arts structure that many consider the architectural gem of the University of California system.

The building had become so outdated that it no longer supported the demands of modern research. By the mid-1990s, it had become clear that the building - rated seismically very poor - was in need of a massive overhaul. As part of the retrofit, it now sits on a foundation system that allows the 60-million-pound building to move 28 inches in any horizontal direction in an earthquake.

The result of this extensive project, which cost $90.6 million, is an elegant, 19th century-style home - complete with delicate columns, lattice girders and Douglas fir window frames - for 21st century research. Individual and corporate donors as well as the state financed the work.

"The completion of this remarkable renovation is an important milestone," said Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. "It is a glorious example of preserving our heritage and an even more important example of UC Berkeley's determination to propel science and engineering into new areas that will benefit people's lives well into the future."

The Department of Materials Science & Engineering will return to the Hearst mining building, having been temporarily relocated to other labs and offices during construction. As part of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, or CITRIS, the building will also support interdisciplinary research in nanosciences and nanoengineering. It will temporarily house other components of CITRIS, an initiative partnering four UC campuses and launched by Gov. Gray Davis to create information technology solutions to critical societal problems.

"The CITRIS component of this building is critical to the college and the campus," said A. Richard Newton, dean of the College of Engineering. "Here we will couple engineering research with chemistry and the physical and biological sciences in the development of new nanoengineered materials. CITRIS researchers will invent the new materials and processes needed to fuel the next technological revolution, while also addressing some of our toughest societal challenges, including energy and the environment."

When philanthropist Phoebe Apperson Hearst funded construction of the building at the turn of the 20th century, she dedicated it in memory of her husband, U.S. Senator George Hearst, who made his fortune in mining. With that in mind, the building was originally designed to accommodate equipment for mining technology, including a three-story crushing tower in the central court that was impressive in its time.

Over the decades, studies in the Hearst mining building have evolved from mining to mineral engineering to present-day materials science and engineering. The building that once had flues for extracting smoke from furnaces is now equipped with HEPA filters to purify the air, crucial for sensitive electron microscopes and other lab equipment, including pulsed laser deposition chambers and electron beam lithographic machines. The laboratories have been upgraded to include acoustical shielding to protect against ambient noise, and the electrical wiring and telecommunication lines have been upgraded.

Where students in the past learned how to mine diamonds, students today are creating synthetic diamonds used to coat hard drive disks to protect them against failure.

"Those early students mastered excavation and extraction of mineral resources using mega-scale mining equipment," said Ronald Gronsky, professor in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering and vice-chair of the UC Berkeley division of the Academic Senate. "Today's students are much more interested in the nano-scale, developing tiny complex widgets that can mine the human body for pathogens and extract them, painlessly. Our field of scholarship has progressed to the point where scientists and engineers are developing new materials from mineral resources by controlling their structure and composition directly at the atomic level."

The original architect of the building, John Galen Howard, noted such inevitability of change at the 1907 dedication ceremony: "We have tried to make our building so that its main structure shall be ... a mere shell whose interior portions may be torn out, adjusted, rebuilt, if necessary, without affecting the strength or aspect of the whole."

The strength of Howard's concept is what makes the Hearst mining building so unique, said Rob Gayle, assistant vice chancellor for Capital Projects. "The building's original architect invited us to modify and renew the interior of the building to adapt it to contemporary needs," said Gayle. "We have accepted his invitation to come back to the building to make it over for a whole new technological era while respecting its character at the same time. There is no other historic building on campus that lends itself to such a radical change in its function while maintaining its original character."

Visitors walking through the front entrance of the four-story building will find themselves in the grand Memorial Gallery, where each pane of glass in the central skylight has been inventoried, repaired if needed, and restored. Looking above, visitors can also see the arches adorned with Guastavino tiles, an early fireproofing method not commonly found in West Coast architecture. The project reinforced the tiles with fiberglass from behind, and nearly invisible pins add security in an earthquake, making this the only Guastavino tile system ever seismically strengthened. The 1960s vinyl flooring in Memorial Gallery has been removed to reveal the original herringbone-patterned yellow brick.

Throughout the building, Douglas fir window frames and doors have been carefully restored or replicated. On the building's west side, a new universally accessible entrance has been created. Entire areas of roof, floor and wall that had been added in the 1940s and 1950s to created additional workspace have been removed to restore the two light courts that flank the center of the building. The steel roof trusses over the new graduate student space have also been restored, while the clay roof tiles have been replaced with new ones by the same manufacturer that furnished the tiles in 1907.

With every turn of a corner there are signs of the old and the new, and all are protected from catastrophic damage in the next earthquake. Capital Projects worked with the California Office of Historic Preservation to ensure that the new elements are compatible with the building's historic character. The Capital Projects team also consulted with campus faculty on various aspects of the retrofit and renovation.

In a retrofit that goes from top to bottom, the roofline's chimney system has been reinforced with high-tension steel strands that are attached to anchor plates.

Most notably, the building's original foundations were replaced with a base isolation system of 134 composite steel and rubber bearings. These high-tech shock absorbers now allow the structure to safely ride out earthquakes.

This base isolation technology, pioneered by UC Berkeley engineers more than 20 years ago, also enabled the preservation of the building's brick masonry walls, which would have been more vulnerable to seismic damage had the foundation remained rigid.

The Hearst mining building sits just 800 feet west of the Hayward Fault, which had once been accessed through a horizontal tunnel, the Lawson Adit, drilled by mining students in the early 1900s. Named after Andrew Lawson, a UC Berkeley professor of geology and mineralogy, the mining shaft was extended from 200 to 900 feet to give seismologists a close-up look at the fault.

"We intentionally drilled and extended the tunnel to get to that fault," recalled John Pruyne, 90, who received an enviable wage of $1 per hour as a student mining Lawson Adit. "Not only was the adit dark, it was wet. Mining wasn't a comfortable job, but it sure paid a lot." Pruyne received his bachelor's degree in mining and metallurgy in 1939.

As the focus of research shifted away from mining over the decades, the shaft fell into disrepair, and much of it has since collapsed. The entrance to the tunnel, less than 12 feet from the building, is now locked, but still visible as a reminder of the achievements made by students and researchers at UC Berkeley.

The project team included architectural firm NBBJ, the Turner Construction Company and structural engineers Rutherford & Chekene.

Related links:

  • Fact sheet on Hearst Memorial Mining Building and the seismic retrofit