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Diller Scofidio + Renfro Plants Flag at Berkeley
Firm wins first of three potential commissions for major California cultural institutions
Diller Scofidio + Renfro will retrofit the old University of California Press plant (in blue) across the street from the Berkeley campus.
Courtesy BAM/PFA

One of the most significant recent architectural commissions in the Bay Area has been decided: the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) has selected Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) to create its new building. It is the New York-based firm's first California commission; a complex project that involves the repurposing of a 1939 printing plant and doubling its 48,000 square feet through an addition.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro's IAC Boston.
The firm's recently completed Alice Tully Hall renovation at Lincoln Center
a site plan (click to zoom)
Top & Center: Iwan Baan; bottom: Courtesy BAM/PFA

“We feel that they are the right firm for the project,” said BAM/PFA director Lawrence Rinder. “We were very impressed with their design for Lincoln Center and the Boston ICA [Institute of Contemporary Art]. Both of those projects have programmatic requirements that are pretty restrictive, but they are also extremely permeable to the urban environment. They clearly have a great affinity for cultural projects, and it is clear that their design solutions arrive out of the particularities of each situation.”

DS+R, who will be working with San Francisco firm EHDD as the architect of record, was picked over Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates and Ann Beha Architects. “This is a blended project of new and old, and a threshold project of art and film, as well as city and campus,” Liz Diller said. “There’s the potential of mixing these populations and audiences, which is kind of thrilling.”

As part of the evaluation, each firm was asked to sketch a couple of concepts. DS+R presented one design where the art museum is located in the repurposed printing plant, a sculptural addition houses the film archive, and the two are connected through a rooftop landscape. A second, more intricate design splits the galleries between the “industrial shed” and the sculpture, but also places a modern version of the shed on top of the sculpture. Then the two are connected by a diagonal shaft, a circulation corridor that is transparent to the street. “We haven’t got a response to either design yet, but they must have liked something they saw,” Diller said.

The museum’s speedy decision-making—after scrapping the original Toyo Ito design, it reviewed an initial list of about 80 firms in early spring, narrowed it down to a shortlist, and then settled on its final pick, all within seven months—may be interfering with the plans of other arts organizations eyeing the firm. DS+R is also on the shortlist to design the SFMOMA expansion, and philanthropist Eli Broad has also been rumored to have favored them for his new art museum down in L.A. About half of the $95 million budgeted for the project (the Ito design was estimated at $200 million) has already been raised, and the anticipated completion date is late 2014.

Lydia Lee