Center Street façade. Photo: Iwan Baan/courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and BAMPFA
Center Street façade of the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive which will open in January 2016. Photo: Iwan Baan/courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and BAMPFA

The staff moved in to their offices in September, planning for its inaugural exhibition is well underway, and construction is almost complete on the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), which is set to open in January 2016.

Anyone who passes through downtown regularly will have, over the past months, had the chance to observe the gradual transformation of the Deco Moderne former UC Berkeley printing plant into a striking structure sporting a gleaming silver roof, a cantilevered section that juts out over what will be the museum’s entrance on Center Street, and a gaping rectangular space on the Addison Street side that will soon be a giant canvas for screening images and films.

Read more about the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

The inside of the new museum offers a mix of large white exhibition spaces, several enticing open-plan areas for public events or where visitors can simply hang out, and stairwells and a womb-like café painted a deep shade of chili red. The new building is 20% smaller than it predecessor, the Mario Ciampi-designed concrete structure on Bancroft Way, but it has more usable space. The new building totals 83,000 square feet, with 25,000 square feet of gallery space. The $112 million project was funded through a philanthropic capital campaign and private sources.

Aside from some difficulties with the installation of the distinctive stainless-steel roof (see below), there have been no significant delays on the museum’s timeline, according to the museum’s owners, UC Berkeley.

View from the corner of Oxford and Center streets of the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Photo: Iwan Baan/courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and BAMPFA

The museum’s first day, on Sunday Jan. 31, 2016, will constitute a free, all-day open house for the general public, and the first day of regular programming will be on Wednesday Feb. 3.

Museum director Lawrence Rinder has enjoyed the unusual opportunity of planning the new museum’s first show as the building and exhibition spaces that will house it emerged around him. The process, he told Berkeleyside earlier this year, was the perfect way for him to familiarize himself with the new structure, which was designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

“When I first started planning the show the building didn’t exist,” he said.

The new BAMPFA as seen from Oxford Street during construction. Photo, taken in August 2015, shows the stainless-steel roof cladding being installed. Photo: Daniel McPartlan

“Architecture of Life” will present an international selection of over 250 works of art, architectural drawings and models, and scientific illustrations made over the past 2,000 years. The show will serve as an introduction to the whole of the new BAMPFA, in that it will occupy all of the gallery spaces in the museum, through May 29, 2016. It will also seep into areas of the new museum that are technically not exhibition spaces, Rinder said.

Rinder said the thinking behind the show is that it will explore the ways that architecture illuminates aspects of life experience: the nature of the self and psyche, the fundamental structures of reality, and the power of the imagination to reshape our world.

“It’s an interesting moment to look at the world through the lens of architecture — to look at how it functions s a metaphor for life,” he said.

The new museum is slated to present more than 400 film screenings and up to 20 art exhibitions annually, as well as an extensive schedule of public programs and performances.

The museum’s former late-night Fridays program is being replaced with a Full Moon program, with special programs every day there’s a full moon, Rinder said on a recent tour of the interior of the new building. The theater will be showing films pretty much every night, he said, bringing another movie watching option to downtown Berkeley.

Rinder emphasized that it’s the first time the museum and the film program have been together under one roof since 1999, and it’s the first time BAMPFA has had a theater optimally designed for film. In fact there are two film theaters (with 232 seats and 33 seats respectively): the primary theater is equipped with state-of-the-art projection for all popular formats, sophisticated acoustics and a world-class sound system donated by Berkeley’s Meyer Sound.

Stainless steel roof cladding on the new BAMPFA. Photo: Daniel McPartlan

A shiny new roof proves tricky

The new museum’s unmissable silver roof has proved more difficult to install than anticipated. Christine Shaff, communications director for UC Berkeley’s real-estate department, said each individual stainless steel tile had to be put in on a particular order. Complicating the task was the fact that some had to be fitted onto rounded corners.

“It’s a unique shape and we had a pretty steep learning curve,” Shaff told Berkeleyside. Known as a “freeform stainless steel façade system,” the roof is not dissimilar to that on the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, designed by architect Frank Gehry, or the EMP Museum in Seattle, also designed by Gehry. Shaff said the shingled look with raised seams used at BAMPFA may be unique, however.

Two readers were in touch with Berkeleyside as the roof was being completed, expressing concern about what they described as the glare being emitted by the expanse of shingles. Shaff said she had not heard of any complaints. The roof will not be receiving any final coating and should stay shiny with proper cleaning and maintenance, she said.

View from the mezzanine into the café which cantilevers over the museum’s Center Street entrance. Photo: Iwan Baan/courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and BAMPFA
View from the mezzanine into the café which cantilevers over the museum’s Center Street entrance. Photo: Iwan Baan/courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and BAMPFA

Distinctive architecture and an accessible location

The museum was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who also designed the High Line elevated park in New York, the Broad museum in Los Angeles and the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston. “The new home for BAMPFA will leverage its location between downtown Berkeley and the UC campus by providing unprecedented visual and physical access to its programs for both visitors and casual passersby,” Charles Renfro, partner at DS+R, said in a prepared statement. “BAMPFA will become a new social and cultural hub for the entire region.”

Rinder echoed Renfro, saying the old museum saw around 75,000 visitors a year and he hoped the new one might attract more, given how close it is to downtown Berkeley, its BART station and the campus. Various elements, including the drop-in study center, an all-ages art lab, and onsite, interactive digital access to the museum and film archive’s vast collection should also encourage visitors to come by.

Paul Discoe, a local master woodworker who designed Ippuku restaurant across the street from BAMPFA, among other projects, has fabricated joinery elements using wood salvaged from pine trees that were removed from the Addison Street side of the building site prior to construction. Discoe is creating the stepped seating of the ‘amphitheater’ performance space, the admissions desk, and the counter and shelving units in the BAMPFA store. The idea is that the wood will add a natural warmth to the building.

Windows along the Center Street façade of the former printing press building have been enlarged, allowing passersby to look into the building and see the ‘Art Wall,’ a 60 x 25-foot interior surface that overlooks the multilevel performance space. BAMPFA intends to commission artists from around the world to create temporary murals on the wall twice a year. For the opening, Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie will produce a site-specific work on the Art Wall inspired by the Chinese literati garden.

Babette, which continues to operate the café at the old BAMPFA site, will run the new café, part of which cantilevers over Center Street, offering views toward the Golden Gate and the Berkeley hills. A new feature of the café will be an evening lounge, Swig’s, which will complement Babette’s offerings with a special food and drink menu. The café can be accessed without paying admission.

View of the largest gallery with restored sawtooth roof and beams above. Photo: Iwan Baan/courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and BAMPFA
Interior view of the special event space with the underside of the film theater. Photo: Iwan Baan/courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and BAMPFA
Detail of the Oxford Street façade. The street-level glazing with illuminates an interior special event space, marks the juncture between the 1939 Art Deco administrative building and the new stainless steel-clad structure. Photo: Iwan Baan/courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and BAMPFA

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) will open its new building to the public on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016 with an all-day open house; the first day of regular programming will be Wednesday, Feb. 3. Visit BAMPFA’s website for more information.

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On the cusp: Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (05.01.13)
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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...