Project Program: The owners of the project developed the 15,000 square foot, two-story two building complex that included space for their architectural design firm. The corner site is located in a West Berkeley neighborhood with an eclectic mixture of uses including manufacturing, office, artist, residential, restaurant, and laboratory. Due to the request by a member of the local zoning board that the complex’s uses reflect the neighborhood’s manufacturing heritage, part of the project was required to be “light industrial”. Currently, an organic sauerkraut manufacturer occupies that component on the ground level of the south building wing, and the architects occupy the rest of that building. An environmental engineering company fills both floors of the north building wing.
Statement and Intent of Objectives: The architects, whose previous office was near the new site, have had roots in the neighborhood for over a decade, giving them an insider’s view of the fabric and texture of this diverse, urban area as well as an appreciation of the neighborhood’s unpretentious ambiance and interesting community of people. While in their previous location, they realized that the blighted property across the street provided a unique opportunity to design new offices for themselves in a building that would display their design philosophy and aesthetic values, while improving not only the site but also enhancing the neighborhood. Fortunately, the property owner was willing to sell it. That the owner-developer, client, and architect were one and the same resulted in clear and uncompromised design objectives:
1)Cheerful, informal and airy open work environment. 2)Sustainability 3)A project that architecturally fits well with and enhances the neighborhood. 4)An architectural expression that embodies the firm’s design principles
Achievement of Objectives: These four objectives are in fact largely overlapping. For example, prominent among the firm’s design principles is the concept of sustainability and context as the drivers of architectural expression. Similarly, the architects’ notion of the ideal work studio environment relies upon abundant but controlled natural light, natural ventilation and views, which are basic aspects of sustainable design. Happily, in this project the owner/architect and neighborhood find the objectives to have been well achieved:
1)At the intersection the building wings, an industrial stair with metal grating stair rail leads to the second level landing connecting both wings. The wood slatted entry gate and landing guardrail add warmth to the coolly clad metal exterior, and cues the approach to the design offices beyond. A continuous window wall wraps much of the second level perimeter. Two cores of rooms for storage and equipment and a kitchen alcove, provide definition for the open work studio, entrance foyer, conference area and partner offices and a hidden mechanical mezzanine. Brightly colored gypsum board walls of these service cores complement the wood, the exposed spiral heating ducts, and the wood and metal trusses of the lofty sloped ceiling. Not a single door interrupts the free-flowing spaces as even the partners’ offices carry the theme of spatial openness. This open floor plan facilitates flows of communication and exchanges of design ideas.
2)The rectangular floor plans are oriented to capture views of the San Francisco skyline as well as of the Berkeley Hills. Exterior perforated metal screens shade the sides and tops of the continuous, operable spandrel windows that line the office, protecting from direct sun while framing the scenic views. Most importantly, the buildings are narrow enough to provide natural ventilation and day-lighting that reaches throughout the floor plate. No area is wasted on circulation: the entry foyer, conference room, partners’ offices, kitchen, and open work studio flow from one to another, such that natural light and ventilation are largely unimpeded by doors and walls.
3)Visual expression of the construction and the wood and unpainted corrugated metal siding allows this building to fit easily in its industrial surroundings, while modern details separate it from its neighborhood counterparts. This is one of the rare projects whose design was unanimously and enthusiastically acclaimed by both the neighbors and the City’s design review committee. That the final result met the community’s expectation was verified by a recent passer-by who exclaimed without breaking his dog-walking pace, “I love this building! The whole neighborhood loves this building!”
The architects were determined to design the building so that it visibly reflected the firm’s design principles. In addition to the visual expression of the above objectives, it was essential to the architects, particularly in a town with a surfeit of faux historic new construction, that the architectural expression be consistent with the buildings own era. This was important for integrity of the projects architecture, and moreover for the richness of the neighborhood’s urban fabric.