The David Brower Center and Oxford Plaza

| Publication: Congress for the New Urbanism

This Housing and Environmental Center project is a complex mixed-use development combining affordable housing, a LEED Platinum office building/conference center for the environmental movement, a restaurant, retail and public parking for the downtown Berkeley’s retail district. The intention of the project is to bring together themes of urban repair, environmentalism and social equity.

The site is a 1 acre lot in downtown Berkeley, one block from Downtown Berkeley’s BART station and across the street from the U.C. Berkeley campus. Previously a surface parking lot, the new program includes a below-grade public parking garage, 97 units of affordable rental apartments, 40 residential parking spaces and bike storage, 8,500 square feet of retail space, a 3,000 s.f. restaurant, 7,300 s.f. of conference center, and 29,000 s.f. of rental office space.

The Environmental Center was founded to create a nationally recognized, permanent home for groups advocating environmental and social change. Its role is to provide a permanent, well equipped setting for people to convene, and create opportunities for connection, synergy and inspiration. To serve these goals, the architects led a unique collaboration amongst leading professionals in low-energy heating and cooling, power generation, daylighting, green structural design, acoustics, and sustainable materials.

The configuration of the building on the site and every aspect of its formal language, material selection and detailing is directed toward achieving the highest level of sustainability. 53% of the construction materials were recycled. The vertically post-tensioned concrete core structure minimizes potential damage due to earthquakes. Extremely low energy mechanical systems use radiant heating and cooling in the exposed concrete ceilings.

Rainwater is collected and used for irrigation and toilet flushing. It has a narrow floor-plate ensuring that every workspace is within easy distance of natural day-lighting. The building employs natural and low energy ventilation and has a rack of southfacing solar panels at the cornice line that not only provide 40% of the building’s electricity, but also create a strong architectural statement.

Public gathering spaces at the Environmental Center include a 180-seat theater, gallery space, conference and event facilities, and an organic restaurant. The Environmental Center’s offices house local, national and international groups and activists working on everything from environmental justice in urban areas and indigenous peoples’ rights around the world, to redesigning food service in schools. The upper three floors include 29,000 square feet of office space, all offered at belowmarket rental rates to organizations working in the environmental and social sectors.

The housing portion is 97-units of affordable family housing intended as workforce housing for the downtown Berkeley area. The unit mix varies from three bedroom family units down to studios. All the units are 100% ADA adaptable and are meant to serve special-needs individuals. They includes 10 units of housing for people with AIDS, 4 units dedicated to MHSA (Mental Health Services Act), 24 project-based Section 8 units as well as 5% fully accessible units and 2% for the vision and hearingimpaired. In addition to green building practices, these additional efforts allowed the client to access several different funding sources as well as city, state, and federal grant monies. The building is participating in the Green Point Rating System with a potential count of nearly 120 points. Funding sources include $6.3m tax exempt bonds; a $6.2m City Housing Trust Fund and RDA Grant; $10.3m in MHP, AHP, HOPWA grants; and $16.5m in 4% taxcredit equity.

Response to Charter Principles

Principle 4: It is infill development within an existing urban area.

Principle 7: The project itself contains a broad spectrum of uses and introduces affordable family housing in a reviving downtown, next to a university with a large concentration of jobs.

Principle 12: The project places a rich mix of activities and housing in easy walking distance of transit, downtown and the university community, a principal user of its conference facilities and restaurant.

Principle 13: The project provides the first and only affordable family housing of recent vintage in downtown Berkeley.

Principle 15: The project, which has a regional draw, is a three minute walk from the downtown Berkeley BART Station and is adjacent to local and regional bus stops.

Principle 16: The project itself is a concentration of civic, institutional and commercial activity, embedded in downtown Berkeley and repairing the edge of downtown as it meets the University.

Principle 19: The project gives new and much needed definition to Oxford Street at the edge of the U.C. Berkeley Campus and shapes a series of linked mid-block courtyards for public and shared use.

Principle 20: The project utilizes two significant adjacent buildings as part of its composition: Edwards Stadium, an Art Deco landmark of great quality across Oxford Street and the Gaia Building , a twelve story historicist apartment house next door.

There are framed views of Edwards Stadium and the Berkeley Hills beyond from the Environmental Center’s courtyards and offices. The concrete colonnade of the stadium is reflected in the formal language of the Environmental Center’s exposed concrete frame. Looking west in the Environmental Center’s Courtyards, the vista is terminated by a carefully framed and flattering view of the Gaia Building.

Principle 22: The revival of downtown Berkeley depends upon regional access by both public transit and automobiles. The project replaces a much used City parking lot with a subterranean public garage.

The Environmental Center itself has an active Transportation Demand Management program and provides no parking. The Housing provides .41 cars/unit in a compact, pitless parking lift garage behind the ground level retail.

Principle 26: Overriding objectives of them Environmental Center design was to maximize the use of natural systems, to flood the building with natural daylight, and through the use of fresh, non-recirculated air and no VOC’s to achieve indoor air quality of the highest standard. There is no way that an awards submission can begin to convey the uplifting sense of the weather, time season and location that permeate the building.

Lessons Learned

The main lesson of this experience has been the power of collaboration, the enormous contributions that technical specialists can make to the formal language and performance of buildings and the necessity of the Architect to lead, shape and edit the work of technical collaborators.

A complex with this many uses and components requires focused and specialized attention to each component. As the project has been occupied, the restaurant, catering event planning, exhibition, and performance spaces each require minor adjustments to maximize their utility. Earlier engagement with users and operators would have made this teething period simpler.

Transect Zone(s): T5 center.
Status: Complete
Project or Plan’s Scale: Region
LEED-ND Certification: Platinum
Land area (in acres): 1
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
Total project cost (in local currency):
Retail area (in sq. ft.): 8500
Office area (in sq. ft.): 29000
Industrial area (in sq. ft.):
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 97
Parks & green space (in acres):
Project team designers: Daniel Solomon Design Partners
Project team developers: N/A
Previous site status:

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: – 2009

(Original Article)