The former UC Berkeley printing plant that will house the new BAM/PFA has been vacant for several years. Photo, by Emilie Raguso, taken on April 30, 2013. See more photos of what the building’s graffiti-strewn interior looked like in 2010.

“It’s been a long hard road. Standing here today I feel both relief and excitement,” Lawrence Rinder, Director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive said, speaking on Tuesday in the shell of a building that will one day be a gleaming new cultural center in the heart of downtown Berkeley.

Building work has begun in earnest on converting the Art Moderne former UC Berkeley printing plant on Center St. into a strikingly contemporary museum designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Plant Construction, who have worked on many museums, including the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, were selected as lead contractors. The parking lot on Addison adjacent to the 1939 building has been largely demolished. Soon, major excavation work will begin, according to David Vogel, project director at EHDD Architecture, who are the appointed executing architects on the project. He spoke at a media preview held in the boarded up building on Tuesday morning this week.

At a preview of the new museum, the building’s distinctive ceiling was evident, a feature of its sawtooth roof. Photo: Emilie Raguso
At a preview of the new museum, the building’s distinctive ceiling was evident, a feature of its sawtooth roof. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s blueprints call for a large sub-street level. Vogel said in order for cranes to access a subterranean level, the building’s distinctive sawtooth roof will be temporarily removed.

“The whole roof will come off to faciliate building the basement,” he said. It will all be carefully put back in place and the concrete and steel beam structure will look exactly the same, he added. The sawtooth element is integral to the new design, he said.

Zoe Small, project leader for the BAM/PFA building at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, said the excavation is a big step. “It will pump a lot of life into the project,” she said.

The plan for BAM/PFA includes a sculptural zinc-clad armature that will stretch across the museum from Center St. to Addison, a café that will project out of the main structure over the museum’s Center St. entrance, and a giant outdoor screen on the Addison Street side — which Rinder said might, for example, show free screenings of Hitchcock films or Word Cup games.

The Pacific Film Archive will have a purpose-built movie theater for the first time, and — also for the first time — BAM/PFA will have a single entrance.

Santa Monica-based Ph.D are tasked with designing signage for the new museum.

Read more about the design, and see renderings of what the museum will look like.

BAM/PFA has been planning a new venue since 1997 when it was determined that its current building on Bancroft Way — built in 1970 and designed by Mario Ciampi — did not meet current seismic standards. The new site will also need seismic retrofitting, particularly in the area which used to house several printing presses. The part of the building that will house offices is relatively robust, according to Brian Main from Cal’s capital projects department, who is overseeing the whole project for UC Berkeley.

Lawrence Rinder, Director of BAM/PFA, spoke at a preview of the museum’s new building on Tuesday April 30. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Lawrence Rinder, Director of BAM/PFA, spoke at a preview of the museum’s new building on Tuesday April 30. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Speaking at the preview event, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said he estimated the new BAM/PFA would draw around 200,000 visitors annually to downtown Berkeley. BAM/PFA is distinctive in being the only encyclopedic museum in the Bay Area — in both its art and film collections.

Read interview with BAM/PFA Director on his vision for the new museum.

Andy Liu, who used to work in UC Berkeley’s development department as a graphic designer, attended Tuesday’s preview and reminisced about the building when it was still a functioning printing plant. “The presses were enormous and very, very loud,” he said. He said he vividly recalled a “thump thump” sound reverberating throughout the building, which also housed UC Berkeley Press’s publishing arm.

UC Berkeley needed to find $100 million to underpin the new museum project, and Rinder said they are nearly there, but that they still need to raise around $6-$7 million — a task he felt confident would be accomplished before opening day in early 2016.

Circular concrete terrazzo staircase in the former UC Berkeley printing plant that will be home to the new BAM/PFA. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Before new Berkeley Art Museum can rise, a demolition [04.08.13 [04.08.13]
Berkeley museum chief: “New space good for town and gown” [02.13.13]
Work begins on new Berkeley Art Museum, to open in 2016 [02.12.13]
Berkeley Art Museum’s new architect talks bubbles, chops [05.04.12]
Palpable possibilities: Berkeley Art Museum’s home awaits [01.25.12]
New Berkeley Art Museum mixes old with eye-catching new [09.16.11]
Berkeley Art Museum selects architects for new home [06.24.11]
UC Berkeley stands by pledge to fund new art museum [11.25.10]
Berkeley Art Museum plans to revamp printing plant [01.27.10]
What might have been [11.24.09]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out All the News.

"*" indicates required fields

See an error that needs correcting? Have a tip, question or suggestion? Drop us a line.

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...