The new Student Athlete High-Performance Center hugs the contour of the Memorial Stadium and is largely underground. Photos: Tracey Taylor

In a few weeks, a brand new, 145,000 sq. ft. building will open its doors in Berkeley. Architects, engineers and construction crews have been working on it for almost three years, and the scale of the endeavor cannot be underestimated. However it’s likely you haven’t even spotted this building; and, even when it’s fully operational by the beginning of next year, it will continue to be largely hidden from public view.

Cal’s new Student-Athlete High Performance Center, built at a cost of $150 million in private donations, has been designed to be almost entirely invisible. Sited largely underground, it hugs the west side of the Memorial Stadium. From the street, the facility appears to be simply a long, stone-clad wall which follows the curve of the stadium.

“The beauty of the design is that it maximizes views of the stadium and keeps that as the architectural focus,” said Bob Milano, Assistant Athletic Director at UC Berkeley as he took this reporter on a tour.

The entrance to the Center which has been designed to highlight the historic stadium and retain views

The Center will cater to 400 student athletes and is divided into three main sections — one part is dedicated to Cal’s football facilities, another to the 12 other Olympic sports in the school’s athletic department, and a large core area houses an impressive array of training, conditioning and rehabilitation facilities.

The high-performance zone and main work-out space inside the center

Milano explains that a key objective of the design was to better connect the whole stadium area with the campus and the city. That explains the goal to ensure the athletic center wouldn’t obstruct views from the former to the latter.

The two acre Grand Plaza on the roof of the new Center includes newly planted trees

It was also the impetus to design a 2-acre Grand Plaza on the roof of the new center, a spot that formerly played host to a parking lot and a chain link fence. A number of trees have been planted into the “ground” of the roof plaza — not an easy feat, and achieved thanks to ingenious engineering and the vision of landscape architect firm Olin Partnership. The plaza will be unveiled at the same time as the stadium reopens.

“The plaza and open space gives the project a human scale,” said Milano.

Walls of Champions clad in cherry wood run throughout the Center

The lead architects on the whole project are HNTB Architecture and Studios Architecture and the structural engineering — critical on a site that sits atop the Hayward Fault — is being overseen by Forell-Elsesser.

New trees have also been planted in and around the grove of oaks which was the scene of almost two years of tree-sitting protests, after it was revealed some of the oaks would have to be removed to build the new sports complex. The trees in question were finally cut down in September 2008. The university has planted three new trees for every one it removed.

A bonus of the work: newly repaved road, new sidewalks and lighting as well as under-grounding of power lines on Piedmont Avenue

The center is reached by climbing a new sweep of wide, shallow steps that leads up from Piedmont Avenue. The street will also see improvements thanks to the stadium and athletic center work. The northbound lane is being resurfaced, a new sidewalk is under construction, new lighting will be installed, and all the power lines are being put underground.

A sweep of steps leads up from Piedmont Avenue to the entrance of the new athletic center with the stadium behind

Inside the athletic center, the amenities include work-out areas, a fitness studio, sports science labs, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, meeting rooms, a broadcast studio and press room. All the spaces are large and surprisingly light for a building that burrows underground — natural light is captured whenever possible.

Milano said some people will start to move in to the new center in early to mid-October and the bulk of its occupants will be in-situ after the football season in December-January.

Horizontal lines are a design theme at the Center, here seen in frosted glass in a medical office

The Memorial Stadium itself is still in the throes of its major, $321 million, renovation, as the presence of gigantic bracing and the hordes of construction workers attest. Two-thirds of the original building — including the concourse, seating, press section and core structures — are being replaced and only the historic walls will being retained.

The landmarked Memorial Stadium, which sits on the Hayward Fault, will reopen in September 2012

The public can view the ongoing work at a vista point on Piedmont Avenue on the stadium’s east side, which is open during construction hours.

A public hearing on the stadium, to discuss modifications to its Environmental Impact Report, takes place on Tuesday August 9 at 7 p.m. at the International House, 2299 Piedmont Avenue. Visit the project website for information.

The stadium is scheduled to re-open for a home game in September 2012.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...