Design Committee Praises Plan for Brower Center

| Publication: Berkeley Daily Planet
They came, they saw, they liked. Berkeley’s Design Review Committee got its first look at plans for the David Brower Center and the accompanying affordable housing project Thursday and gave both a resounding seven thumbs up.

It was the four-story Browe r Center—designed to be one of the world’s “greenest” buildings—that drew the most extravagant praise, but members had plenty of praise for the adjoining 96-unit, all-affordable Oxford Plaza housing building.

San Francisco architect Dan Solomon, who desi gned both structures, called the project “an absolute dream commission on a crucial downtown Berkeley site.”

The $47 million project could begin construction this year and be finished in two years, he said.

The project is slated for construction on the site of the city’s Oxford Plaza parking lot along Fulton Street between Allston Way and Kittredge Street. The lost parking lots would all be replaced in a single level of underground parking.

The 96-unit, six-floor Oxford Plaza affordable housing struct ure will offer 40 ground floor parking units, many featuring electric lifts that will accommodate two vehicles in one slot. No parking is planned for the Brower Center, in keeping with the organization’s pro-bike and mass transit agenda.

The center build ing, a rounded front creation that extends from the Fulton Street/Allston Way intersection down Allston to the landmarked Cancun restaurant building adjacent to the Gaia Building, will offer offices to environmental and other organizations, green retailer s and restaurants and includes a 200-seat auditorium.

“It’s very refreshing to see a mixed-use building that actually has substantial mixed use,” said DRC member and architect Rob Ludlow. “This is a very exciting project.”

“We should be so lucky to have this building in Berkeley,” said member and architect Bob Allen. “When we get a really good project from a really good architect, we should refrain from dabbling.”

“I’m actually for once going to agree with everything Bob said,” said DRC member and Landmarks Preservation Commission member Carrie Olson, drawing gasps and a quip from Dave Blake, a DRC member who also sits with Allen on the Zoning Adjustments Board.

Olson’s main concern was the Brower Center’s failure to consider surrounding landmarks in their report.

“This is a real thrill,” said DRC member and landscape architect Charles McCulloch. “It sort of makes my heart beat faster,

“It’s handsome, appropriately scaled for the location and makes a persuasive case for an exception from the downtown plan” limits on building height, said architect/member Burton Edwards.

Hired publicist Caleb Dardick organized a major turnout of supporters, just as he had done for the proposed Ed Roberts Center.

Dean Harrison S. Fraker Jr. of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design and chair of the school’s own Design Review Committee, called the project “a wonderful aesthetic addition to the city” that “adds an elegant urban rigor” to the city/campus border.

“This is like a gift from the gods,” said Boona C heema of BOSS.

Similar kudos came from the likes of former Earth Island Institute Executive Director David Phillips, Rain Forest Action Network President Randy Hayes, and prospective Gaia Building commercial tenant Anna De Leon.

Many proponents were esp ecially excited about the Brower Center’s green building standards, which should qualify for the highest “platinum” rating conferred by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The center features three floors of office space about the ground floor retail and ga llery area.

By incorporating a new form of light redirecting glass that projects outside lighting across the ceilings, the second floor of offices will be passively lit to the full depth of the structure, Solomon said, with a skylight illuminating the upper level of offices.

Natural ventilation photovoltaic cells on the roof will reduce energy consumption to minimal levels, and the usual of eco-friendly and recycled materials in construction will minimize the structure’s ecological footprint.

In other matters, those commission’s seven enthusiastic thumbs turned fervently down for another project, a facelift-on-the-cheap to buildings at the northeast corner of Shattuck Avenue and Dwight Way.

Owner Kenneth Matsumura submitted plans that would have cover ed much of the outer surfaces of the existing corner building, the attached building that sits between the corner structure and the Fine Arts Building—another Dan Solomon project—and a yet-to-be-constructed additional along Dwight Way, with panels of wire grillwork.

Matsumura said the proposal was an inexpensive way of solving the otherwise costly problem of making distinctly different buildings look like one.

Bob Allen said he had doubts that the metal add-ons would sit well atop an existing stucco surface. Chair David Snippen called it “a terrible, terrible mistake” that served to mask poor construction.

“I can’t say anything positive about it,” said Olson.

“It’s an insufficient renovation of an already insufficient building,” said Burton Edwards. “We can’t approve this kind of building.”

Resubmitted plans for the Prince Hall Arms, a proposed housing structure with ground floor retail and space for a Masonic lodge at 3132 Martin Luther King, were more to the committee’s liking than earlier version, but not enough to win the committee’s approval.?