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Reuse | Arts & Sciences

Metropolis | By Kenneth Caldwell


Earlier this year the Berkeley Art Museum, a Brutalist structure close to Northern California’s Hayward Fault, took on a new life as a state-of-the-art incubator lab called the Bakar BioEnginuity Hub.



The unique edifice, with its fanning board-formed concrete walls and interior art galleries linked by cantilevered ramps, was originally designed by noted Bay Area modernist Mario Ciampi (with two other architects) and completed in 1970. The building’s most pressing issue was always its seismic vulnerability, eventually leading to the museum’s relocation to a new building designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and EHDD in 2016.


Several proposals explored potential uses for Ciampi’s structure, but none attracted the necessary donors. That is, until MBH Architects, working with a team that included structural engineers Forell/Elsesser, MEP engineers PAE, and preservation architects Page & Turnbull, proposed threading a new program of labs and offices into the building. Interior buckling-restrained-braced frames (BRBs) would significantly improve the seismic rating. The BioEnginuity Hub now houses varied workspaces as well as wet and dry, open and private labs where UC graduate students can share space with life science start-ups and established biotech companies.



To allow room for extensive mechanicals, the team looked to empty spaces inside the structural concrete “trees” that help hold up each ramp, as well as to areas within the floor structure. New interstitial and lab spaces were found in the tall volumes of the former galleries. The atrium and its surrounding overlooks became office and collaboration zones. To provide 6,600 additional square feet of office space, MBH designed a simple, modern, yet contrasting volume that resembles a glass-and-steel drawer emerging from a concrete cabinet, using concrete walls that extend the building’s radii into its garden.


The Hub is a win-win: Scientific research has a new, powerful space, and an original architectural vision endures. As MBH studio director Ken Lidicker notes, “We let the building continue to express itself.”


Published: Metropolis May/June 2022 Issue