Berkeley’s environment-friendly center to open

| Publication: San Francisco Chronicle

In a splash of bamboo, concrete and solar panels, Berkeley will unveil a temple to the environmental movement next week with the opening of the Brower Center.

The $28 million state-of-the-art office building, on the site of a former parking lot next to UC Berkeley, will house at least 10 environmental nonprofit groups. Made of 53 percent recycled material, the four-story building has received the highest rating for green construction.

“So far, we love it. It’s beautiful,” said Kevin Connelly, associate director of the Earth Island Institute, which was founded by environmental leader David Brower and is one of the first tenants to move in. “It’s an honor to be in a world-class green building, especially one that’s built as a tribute to Dave.”

The Brower Center also includes a 180-seat theater, art galleries, meeting rooms, a restaurant and other public spaces. The organizers’ hope is to create a place where environmentally minded people can meet, brainstorm and help solve some of the world’s most challenging ecological dilemmas.

The building officially opens May 8, but tenants began moving in a week ago. For many, it’s a leap into mainstream legitimacy after toiling for decades in glorified broom closets. The Earth Island Institute, for example, spent 22 years in a cramped former printer’s building on Broadway in San Francisco, and now finally has ample space for all 25 employees and its many visitors.

Peter Buckley, president of the Brower Center, said that elevating the status of environmental groups was among the project priorities. If lawyers, doctors and mayors work in stately buildings, why shouldn’t environmentalists?

“They’re doing important work. The building they’re in should affect the way they see themselves and reflect the impact they make,” said Buckley, a former Esprit executive who founded the Center for Ecoliteracy, one of the Brower tenants. “Hopefully it will have a ripple effect.”

The building pays tribute to Brower, who, among many things, was the first executive director of the Sierra Club and was instrumental in establishing 10 national parks, including Point Reyes.

The center was designed by San Francisco architect Dan Solomon and was completed on time and on budget, but required a protracted, monumental search for funding. Planning and fundraising began just before Brower died, in 2000, and in the end included more than 30 funding sources. The city kicked in about $6 million and helped secure much of the funding, in part by arranging for federal money to include affordable housing in the project.

The affordable housing adjacent to the Brower Center is a six-story complex called Oxford Plaza that opened a few weeks ago. The units rent for $325 to $1,150 per month, depending on the tenant’s income and the size of the apartment. More than 3,500 people applied for 97 units, according to the developer, Resources for Community Development.

But the Brower Center is the main attraction. It’s designed to require no artificial light during the day, and uses rainwater collected from the roof to irrigate the patio garden.

Most of the wood is either sustainably grown or reclaimed, and much of the concrete and carpets are recycled.

It’s also filled with artwork. One wall is coated with four different-colored local soils mixed into the plaster, creating a textured mosaic of tans, browns and ambers.

An irrigation tool on the patio is made from used artillery shells, and the bathroom counters are a colorful panoply of recycled glass. A wooden conference table is shaped like a tree.

Tenants, who are selected by the Brower Center staff, sign long-term leases at market-rate or below-market-rate rents. Only two suites remain unleased, said Amy Tobin, director of the Brower Center.

“Having seen a parking lot turn into a building like this – I’m pretty humbled,” she said. “We’ve been working on this for so long, but now we see the human part, the life of the building, begin. This is where we actually start.”

The Brower Center open house takes place from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. May 10 at the center, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley. Free. The event will include lectures, films and family activities. For information, go to

(original article)