Rendering, dated October 2013, of the planned UC Berkeley Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation building, as it will look from Ridge Road in Berkeley. Image. Berkeley Engineering

UPDATE, APRIL 23, 2014: Several trees were cut down early today, Wednesday April 23, on the site of the proposed new building. Reports suggest crews were working on the trees at 7 a.m. Ted Friedman filed this photograph showing a cleared area next to the volleyball court:

ORIGINAL STORY: Neighbors to a proposed new UC Berkeley building say its modern design, and the need to remove several trees in the area in order to build it, are threats to the aesthetic and value of the historic Northside neighborhood. And the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) agrees.

The Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, a new College of Engineering design facility, is set to replace the volleyball court at Le Roy Avenue and Ridge Road. The 20,000 gross sq ft building, funded by a $20 million gift from the Paul and Stacey Jacobs Foundation, will have three stories, with the first story being partially underground.

BAHA sent a letter to UC Berkeley in October objecting to the proposed building’s “alienating institutional look,” and suggested the planners consider a design that bears more “relation to the surrounding historic resources.”

The new Cal College of Engineering design facility is set to replace the volleyball court at Le Roy Avenue and Ridge Road. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The proposed design, which is by San Francisco’s LMS Architects who designed Berkeley’s Ed Roberts campus among other projects, includes a fiber-cement rain screen system façade, aluminum framed windows, aluminum louvers, and, possibly, bi-facial translucent photovoltaic roof panels.

Multiple Berkeley landmarked buildings neighbor the Jacobs Hall site, including Allenoke Manor, built in 1903, and Cloyne Court, a 1904 building on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood is also home to several of Bernard Maybeck’s earliest houses.

“You can stand on that construction site with a stone and hit historic properties, one after another,” said Jim Sharp, a member of BAHA.

In 1923 a fire ravaged the neighborhood, destroying hundreds of homes.

“What remains is very important because it’s really the cradle of the Arts and Crafts brown shingle style that typifies Berkeley,” said Daniella Thompson, BAHA board member and former president.

Multiple Berkeley landmarked buildings neighbor the Jacobs Hall site, including Allenoke Manor, built in 1903. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The BAHA letter also protests the planned removal of several trees during construction, some of which will be replaced. On the site, 16 redwoods and one maple tree will all be removed and replaced with three 24-inch boxed redwoods and five 24-inch boxed Crimson Spire English oaks. On Ridge Road, 24-inch boxed red maple trees will replace the five existing Liquidambar trees, and the three frontier elms on Le Roy will be removed and replaced in different locations.

BAHA objects to the removal of the trees primarily because the redwoods serve as a screen between the university’s “institutional” architecture and the historical structures that surround it.

Some neighbors to the site share BAHA’s concerns.

“They soften the urban landscape,” said Charlene Woodcock, a 43-year resident of Virginia Street, a few blocks west of the Jacobs Hall site. “Having that grove there was a comfort. Its subliminal for most people, I’m sure.”

Woodcock said she is also worried about the environmental impact of removing several trees on site.

Christine Shaff, a UC Berkeley Facilities spokeswoman, said that in some cases, the project presents “an opportunity to replace trees that aren’t doing so well.” The university consulted with the City of Berkeley arborist about the street trees, and with the campus landscaper with regards to the trees on site, which belong to the university.

The street trees on Ridge Road are in the public right of way, said city spokesman Matthai Chakko.

“Given the size of the replacement red maple trees, they should be able to grow to the size of the Liquidambar trees they’re replacing within a few years,” he said.

Some of the removed redwoods will be converted into benches inside Jacobs Hall and the rest will be sold for use, Shaff said.

It isn’t the first time community members have opposed the university’s removal of trees on campus. For 19 months between 2006-2008, tree-sitters occupied the oak grove by Memorial Stadium before it was chopped down to make way for the Simpson Center.

Shaff said the university has removed many trees since then but rarely receives major complaints, and it makes an effort to replace them when possible.

“People are attached to trees”

“People are attached to trees and I completely understand that,” she said. “It’s not something that happens without lots of consideration and design work and thought into what will go in its place.”

The Jacobs Hall site was identified as a developable location in the UC Berkeley long-range development plan released in 2005. BAHA members knew this, but hoped the university would eventually recognize the tree-shrouded volleyball court as “a good interface between the institution and the neighborhood,” said Thompson, a Northside resident since 1988.

Jacobs Hall will not be the only contemporary structure in the area; it will neighbor Soda Hall, built in 1994. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Jacobs Hall will not be the only contemporary structure in the area; it will neighbor Soda Hall, built in 1994, and Etcheverry Hall, built in 1966, which are made of concrete, ceramic tile, and stucco. The BAHA letter calls the buildings “alien intruders.”

The initial design guidelines for Jacobs Hall acknowledge the contrast between university and community architecture, and suggest an effort will be made to “enhance and complement surrounding buildings” and “integrate into the adjacent urban fabric.”

“The strange thing is, when they presented their mission to the [Design Review Committee] they said one of their goals was to fit in with the historic neighborhood, but the architectural design doesn’t show it,” Thompson said.

The BAHA letter points to the recent restoration of John Galen Howard’s Blum Hall on Hearst Avenue, which incorporates Arts and Crafts elements, as an example of a less invasive modern building.

Materials have not been finalized

Shaff said Jacob Hall’s exterior materials have not been finalized, and that the design has changed since BAHA sent the letter. A November memo from the head planner to the City, sent shortly after BAHA wrote the letter, says, “The building’s primary façade material would be a fiber cement rain screen system. The roof would potentially feature bi-facial translucent photovoltaic panels.”

BAHA’s letter was passed around to the project manager, the architect and the College of Engineering, Shaff said.

“We got the letter, everybody read it, and we continued to work on the design,” she said. “We’ve heard from a lot of people as we’ve taken the project out, and that all goes into the mix.”

Construction on Jacobs Hall is anticipated to begin in March, after the Office of the President approves the project, and conclude in the summer of 2015. It does not require city approval.

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...