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MBH Architects Creates 94,000 SQFT Space for Innovation with UC Berkeley

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

The Registry | February 14, 2022 by Bekka Wiedenmeyer

More than 50 years ago, architect and San Francisco native Mario Ciampi designed a brutalist structure on University of California at Berkeley’s campus. The architectural style, made popular during the postwar era with the use of sharp angles and cantilevered concrete masses, has made the University Art Museum the building a work of art. The structure went through decades of change, was later dubbed the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive and in 1997, was even deemed structurally unsafe by UCB. Just after the turn of the century, steel braces were added to reinforce the building’s exterior, and in 2011, the landmark was again renamed and dedicated as Woo Han Fai Hall to pay homage to the father of David Woo, who worked with Ciampi on the original design at the start of his career. In 2014, the building was vacated due to being seismically unsound.

Now, in partnership with UCB and Bakar Labs, global architecture firm MBH Architects is leading the project for Bakar BioEnginuity Hub, which will convert Woo Han Fai Hall into a 94,000 square foot laboratory and commercial office space. The renovation not only includes wet and dry open and private labs in its interior, but other life science amenities such as biosafety cabinets, deep freezers, incubators, tissue culture rooms and more. Two new usable outdoor plazas have been incorporated into the design to activate the public space adjacent to the building, courtesy of Bay Area-based Jett Landscape Architecture + Design. All mechanical and electrical infrastructure have been overhauled to meet LEED Gold requirement, due to the efforts of West Coast-based PAE.

“The design objective was to incorporate a complicated program into very unusual geometries. We did several studies to make sure we could get structural and mechanical infrastructure into the building and still have nice spaces for labs and office spaces,” said Ken Lidicker, director and senior associate at MBH. “With all of the concrete walls as the background for art and theater, we wanted to incorporate labs and finishes that would replace the art in a complimentary way, to work in concert with the powerful concrete walls and angles.”

The project is five years in the making. In 2016, MBH Architects was selected to conduct a feasibility study to determine the necessary steps for renovation, and the study was successfully completed. According to project documents shared with The Registry by MBH Architects, there were four main challenges to consider in the aftermath of the study. Structural performance needed to be improved to bring the building up to code after the temporary seismic upgrade of 2001. The building needed to provide more accessibility for visitors; with its original design, nearly 80 percent would not be considered accessible by modern definition. The building’s mechanical system also needed a significant upgrade, particularly if it was going to be repurposed for life science and biotech use. Lastly, the historical characteristics of the building needed to be preserved through the renovation, as a dedicated city landmark and member of the National Register of Historic Places.

Thus, the goal of the renovation was two-fold: create an upgraded space for UC graduate students to convene with life science startups and biotech companies, and preserve the historical significance of the site through those efforts. With the support of QB3, the University of California’s institute that supports innovation and entrepreneurship in the life science industry, the project began.

Located at 2630 Bancroft Avenue, the building has two levels below grade and two levels above grade, featuring floors and ramps of various heights. According to the project documents, in its original design, cantilevered beams topped with concrete over metal deck supported the levels. Each cantilevered level was held up by a beam on one side and supported on the other by an expansion joint that connected through to the roof to allow for building movement. The below grade levels featured stepped galleries that spread out over the open space.

“The plan of this building is a complicated jigsaw puzzle. Along with the angles of the building, we had to be very creative and clever with our programing and layout,” said Lidicker. “Since this is an incubator lab we tried to constantly promote interactions with other companies and scientist, within the building. There are many planed areas for random collisions of people and hopefully ideas.”

With the aid of historical consultant Page & Turnbull, the team identified characteristics of the building that needed to be sustained throughout the renovation to honor its 50-year life span.

The consistently stacked, board-formed masses of the exterior facade and cantilevered switchback ramps of the upper levels were deemed critical to the building’s character. The revised design also needed to be sensitive to the deeply recessed glazing of the building, as well as the existing ramps and sky-lit, double-height central gallery space.

With these features in mind, MBH moved forward with a design concept that could both respond to these features and preserve the functionality of the space. The team has added structural brace framing along the demarcation line between areas of historical importance, as well as replaced the former museum galleries with glass front labs which continue to provide views to the interior atrium. The renovation also includes new buckling restrained braced frames and foundations to secure the structural integrity of the building.

Part of the 94,000 square foot renovation also features 6,600 square feet of new space which is located below the upper galleries at the lowest tier of the building. The design is intended to set the expansion apart from the rest of the building, and the facade is made entirely of glass and metal to create a comparatively light, airy feeling.

Bakar BioEnginuity Hub is mixed use and provides laboratory space, as well as commercial office space for companies to use. Both public and private lab spaces are offered, and QB3 will provide major equipment as required. Additional amenities include rentable benches, ovens, autoclave and glass-wash service and a collection of analytic equipment for incubating companies to use. All laboratory areas also feature a house vacuum system and highly polished water.

Because one of the primary goals of the project is collaboration between entities, the office areas are comprised of open cubicles, private spaces and conference rooms. Common areas will create space for casual and formal interaction and can also be used for meetings, lectures and social get-togethers. A protected exterior courtyard serves as a break area, and the eastern wing of the building houses utility and storage space.

The building is all-electric, with a cost- and space-efficient HVAC design and a reduced Energy Usage Intensity (EUI) in comparison to the LEED baseline. While the project is still pending certification, the team’s goal is to achieve LEED Gold status. The building is slated to officially open this month.

Published: The Registry


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