Architizer A+ Special Mention: Bakar BioEnginuity Hub // MBH Architects

Architizer | October 20th, 2022


Bakar BioEnginuity Hub transforms a historically-significant building on the University of California, Berkeley campus from a structurally-deficient inoperable space into a modern coworking life science lab facility designed to LEED Gold standards. The design, which includes a glass-fronted addition and two new public plazas, modernizes the former Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive designed by Mario Ciampi to today’s standards while honoring the building’s original brutalist design intent.



The museum vacated the building in 2014 because it had been deemed seismically unsafe. Alameda-based architecture and design firm MBH Architects was initially brought on to conduct a feasibility study to determine the renovations needed to make the building well-suited for life science laboratories while preserving the structure’s historical significance.


During this phase, MBH identified four major challenges to renovating the structure to satisfy the life science requirements: upgrading the structural performance to the current code, designing a life science and coworking program to fit within the building’s irregular geometry while addressing life safety, substantial mechanical modernization, and finally, performing all necessary renovations and upgrades while preserving the building’s historical character.


Upon completion, the initiative was feasible, MBH was engaged to design the forthcoming Bakar BioEnginuity Hub. The goal for the new use is to bridge the gap between UC graduate students, life science startups, and established biotech companies by providing well-equipped research space, which is often cost-prohibitive for young companies.


Programmatic elements of the new space include a laboratory, open office areas, collaboration spaces, private offices, conference rooms, an auditorium, an undergraduate program space, terraces, and public outdoor spaces. The team converted the former museum’s upper-level galleries into glass-fronted labs that overlook dramatic cantilevered ramps hanging within a sky-lit double height space.


These ramps and other parts of the museum’s circulation system that once led visitors from gallery to gallery have been preserved and re-purposed to intentionally create interaction between groups of people who might not otherwise have an occasion to converse, furthering the university’s goal of encouraging innovation among scientists. Wanting to challenge the often sterile-looking design of lab spaces, the team infused the labs with liveliness using brightly colored walls and natural light by uncovering and replacing skylights that had been covered to protect artwork from UV damage.Workspaces and common areas have materials and forms that contrast and complement the original structure and provide a welcoming environment for innovative work.


During feasibility, it was determined that additional space was required to accommodate the new use; thus, a 6,600 square foot glass-fronted addition was designed to be visually distinct yet complementary to the original structure. Sitting below the lowest hanging ramp, the extension’s glass façade contrasts strikingly with the weight of the concrete above. The historically-significant elements of the 1970 Brutalist structure have been upgraded with the utmost care to preserve the original character while protecting the building from future damage. Significant issues, such as seismic performance, water intrusion, and acoustic performance, have been addressed while bringing the building up to code.


Mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure was overhauled, including the replacement of existing gas service with all-electric systems, allowing the project to achieve low EUI, operational carbon neutrality and Net-Zero HVAC water-use as well as meet LEED Gold requirements. Because the building is nearly all concrete, including floors, walls, and ceilings, the team was challenged to make all upgrades, including new modern lighting while minimizing the amount of cutting required of the original structure.


The lighting was designed to pay homage to the original lighting design for the art museum. It highlights character-defining features of the building, meets varying light requirements for the variety of space used throughout the building, and is aesthetically cohesive throughout. Round luminaires in various sizes and configurations are consistently found throughout the building, wall-washing luminaries with up/down lenses and linear base lighting were added to the cantilevered beams and ramps to accentuate the geometric complexity and grandeur of the building.


Two new public plazas activate the frontages along Bancroft Way and Durant Ave, which previously lacked substantial public space. A landscaped and well-lit public walkway connects the two streets, creating further community interaction with the site.


Published: Architizer