Modernized Museum

Awards judge Charles Bloszies, FAIA, SE, LEED AP, has had the opportunity to see the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), Berkeley, Calif., in person and has followed its evolution. “When you walk around it, you get different views of different facades with peaks inside,” he says. “It really is quite marvelous.” Bloszies was so impressed with the museum that he and the other judges awarded it the category winner in the metal walls retrofit category.

Revamping a 1939 building with a smooth, sweeping metal skin

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BAMPFA is the visual arts center of the University of California, Berkeley. One of the largest university art museums in the nation, it features diverse exhibition programs and collections of over 16,000 art objects and 14,000 films BAMPFA’s mission is to inspire imagination and critical dialogue through art and film.

Originally located on the university campus, the UC Berkeley-owned museum is now located in downtown Berkeley. Its new building (previously a UC Berkeley printing plant) was repurposed to serve as gallery, education, store, and office space, and provides an even more dynamic and engaging place to experience art, film, performance and educational programs. As part of the renovation, the building was integrated with a new 30,000-squarefoot structure, bringing its total square footage to 83,000. The added space features two film theaters as well as a film library, art lab, study center, special event space, and café.

Interweaving Old and New

New York City-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) Architects was BAMPFA’s architect and San Francisco-based EHDD Architects was its executive architect. These two firms had the task of making use of an existing WPA-era press and office building, and then matching it with the new addition to create a dynamic design. Architects at DS+R designed the new structure to have a “soft, supple body, draped between adjacent orthogonal buildings and snagged on their sharp corners, creating a dramatic public spine.”

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EHDD has experience with complex building types and by using its strong technical expertise it successfully handled this challenge. This included the expansion of galleries below grade and into the water table, a theater that hovers over a void in seismic country just over a mile from the Hayward fault, and large expanses of glass. The form of the Osher Theater reinterprets the 1930’s streamline modern style of the press building and modernizes it with precision-formed stainless steel. Minneapolis-based Radius Track Corp. was the building’s specialty framer.

Awards judge Charles W. Wray Jr., AIA, LEED AP, was very impressed with how the BAMPFA building integrated old and new. “The metal panels are so strikingly contrasting with the original building and the very ridgid manufacturing form, I just thought it was really an elegant look,” he says. “I love the folded plane; a lot of craftsmanship went into the detailing and construction. I’m sure it had a dramatic impact on the neighborhood and the streetscape.”

Awards judge John Bencher also took note of the building’s distinctive shape, calling it a “more fluid surface than what is usually done on a very flat [building] surface.” “Surfaces are [usually] curved in a simplistic way, this has a more fluid formal application that is interesting,” he adds. San Francisco-based Plant Construction Co. was BAMPFA’s general contractor. Maplewood, Minn.-based MG McGrath Inc. was the project’s fabricator and installer. MG McGrath worked with UC Berkeley and the BAMPFA project team on the museum’s new building renovations, furnishing and installing metal skin and exterior glazing within the metal skin as well as curtainwall entrances and skylights.

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Building Complexity

“MG McGrath was brought onto the team early on, during the design phase of preconstruction,” says Dave Rassmussen, manager of business development at MG McGrath. “The first step in the design-assist process was to define the intent for the job and establish a criterion for the product life cycle, performance, system type and aesthetics. EHDD and DS+R Architects had selected stainless steel for the material of the exterior façade of the building, creating a digital model that included the surface geometry as well as the major and minor panel joints. Because of the rigidness of the material and the amount of radii and warping of the surface, MG McGrath worked collaboratively with the architect to identify the shape that the panels would need to have in order to fit the surface geometry. Following approval of hand-sketched drawings and mock-up, MG McGrath was able to incorporate the specs into the source model and fabricate entirely off of the model. This allowed for better understanding of how the geometry and the panels themselves would interact with one another, enhanced coordination internally–among our designers, welders, fabricators and installers–as well as the project team as a whole, and overall increased accuracy.”

Because of the complexity of the building design and its ornate shape, the use of digitally defined fabrication and the ability to fully build the structure within a 3-D model and understand the building digitally prior to and throughout construction is what allowed for the project to be completed successfully. With 1/8-inch joint tolerances from panel to panel, there was no room for error.

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“Even with the complexity of the project, our team felt capable bringing in under budget using mass customization because of our utilization of digitally defined fabrication software and our advancing capabilities within the technology,” Rassmussen says. “It was significant that each team member build off of the same model for the project to come together. DS+R created the model using the surface geometry, which was utilized as the source of truth for all trades that were affected by the exterior envelope, and all of us coordinated and collaborated, working off of the same model to perform our scopes.”

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