Artist's rendering by Jennifer Mahoney
Artist's rendering by Jennifer Mahoney

New plans for the Helios Energy Research Facility will be presented to the UC Board of Regents next week. The project calls for a new five-story, 112,800 sq ft building across the street from the UC Berkeley campus, on the site bounded by Oxford, Berkeley Way, Shattuck and Hearst.

The Helios project was originally conceived by Steve Chu, then director of Lawrence Berkeley Lab, now US Secretary of Energy. It is designed to bring together LBL and UC Berkeley researchers working on solar energy, biofuels and other ways to curb climate change. The original plan was to construct a large building on LBL land in Strawberry Canyon. The new scheme — Helios West — will replace a grim, unused 1950s building that once housed California Department of Health Services offices. Ultimately, a second, smaller building — Helios East — will be constructed on the Strawberry Canyon site.

Helios West will house the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute, a collaborative project between LBL, UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois, and the university’s bioengineering department. Helios East, which is planned to be a 21,000 sq ft building, will house the Solar Energy Research Center.

The Helios West plan has been discussed at the city’s Planning Commission and Design Review Committee. It has also been presented at a number of public meetings for comment. Helios West will be built on Hearst, at the east end of the site, with a public park to the south and a new pedestrian pathway along Walnut Street (see rendering above), which is currently blocked by the old DHS building. Ultimately, the plan is for a new community health campus, integrating optometry, neuroscience and some other programs, on the west end of the site, but those have been shelved because of budgetary constraints.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...