PRINT April 1966



From December, 1964 to July, 1965, the University of California at Berkeley conducted a competition to select an architect for the proposed University Arts Center, a museum complex to function under the directorship of Dr. Peter Selz. The jury for the competition consisted of three architects: Lawrence B. Anderson, Gardner A. Dailey and Ralph Rapson.

The jury’s choice lighted on the design submitted by Mario Ciampi, of San Francisco. Careful examination of the final entries leaves little doubt that the Ciampi entry was, by all odds, the best, and that the jury was wise in selecting it. The immediate advantages of Ciampi’s design can be stated succinctly:

1. Its over-all design does not have a “dated” aspect: its strong, bold forms will not look, in the future, as if they were designed “in the Sixties.” This is not true of most of the other final submissions.

2. The exterior clearly expresses the multiple functions of the building, i.e., the accommodation of a number of galleries of various sizes and shapes.

3. The form is strong enough so that the finish material can be inexpensive and coarse, probably poured-in-place reinforced concrete with a texture produced by the roughness of the forms or by brush-laminating later. This will result in a building of a large scale, monumental character.

4. The interior arrangement of the galleries is superb. By using the entrance lobby as an organizing element, from which all galleries may be seen, and which itself may be seen from any of the galleries, a sense of location is always possible to the gallery visitor. In too many museum galleries, the visitor is “lost”: after passing through room after room he loses his bearings, a very uncomfortable feeling. Here, one is always aware of one’s position within the building. (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, by Frank Lloyd Wright, is an example of another gallery beautifully organized around an interior space. The Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, is organized around an exterior courtyard which gives the same sense of location.)

5. Because of this complex interlocking of gallery and lobby space the interior space is very interesting. Although intricate, this space will not be confused because of the basically orderly device of a large lobby space from which the gallery spaces fan out radially . . . Here again, the bold spatial quality will permit the use of raw concrete or some other inexpensive material on the interior.

The relationship between the outdoor spaces and sculpture courts to the galleries is pleasant and direct, but the site planning in general has some weaknesses, and these, too, can be stated succinctly:

1. The position of the building on the site is somewhat disturbing in that it cannot be seen from the West, due to the YWCA and other buildings. This is perhaps the best elevation of the building. One wishes that these buildings to the West could be removed to give the Art Center more breathing room, but we are told they will remain. It may be possible to turn this West face of the building toward Bancroft Street, so that the tremendous cantilevers and concrete forms are more clearly revealed. In any event, this strong building could easily hold down many more vacant acres of space around it, and would be even more effective if it had more space. (This same criticism could be leveled at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.)

2. The admission of light into the galleries is handled by means of a slat at the intersection of the walls and roof of each upper gallery. As a result, the only natural light entering these galleries will wash the wall only. No free-standing object in these galleries can receive natural light. This is a very limited and inflexible way of handling the light and more study should be given to the problem of getting more natural light into the center of the rooms. The only free-standing objects which would receive natural light would be weather-proof sculpture placed outdoors in the courtyards.

3. It would be quite difficult to shut one gallery off from the rest of the center, because of the geometry of the place and the necessity of going through one gallery to get to the next. If certain upper galleries had to have certain temperature or humidity control, this would be impossible.

4. The circulation of art objects from the storage areas to some of the galleries is very devious and should be studied further.

5. There is a derivative aspect to this design; this is not really a criticism, but nevertheless it is fascinating to guess at the sources. The Wolfsburg Culture Center by Alvar Aalto, completed in 1962, though a real horror architecturally, has the idea of this radial disposition around an organizational space.

The other final submissions fall far below the winner in quality and represent, for the most part, restatements of old themes. The jury, as many juries do when there are several finalists to select from, picked “type” solutions. Thus we have the “Mies solution” as proposed by Johnson and Takeuchi of Chicago, the “Corbusier-Harvard” solution, as proposed by Pollack, Lew and Weber of Berkeley, the “Boston City Hall” solution by Patterson of San Francisco (not a finalist), etc. As mentioned in the catalog, many of the entries bogged down in attempting to bisect the site with a pedestrian way from the dormitories on the South, to the campus on the North. This usually forced the plan into contortions that damaged it severely.

One submission, which did not make it to the finals, by John Sidener of Berkeley, accomplished this pedestrian penetration through the site, while still maintaining a very workable solution. In addition to a very interesting gallery arrangement, he utilizes the surrounding building and spaces more effectively than any other entrant. To the South is a triangular space formed by two portions of the Art Center Building, closed off on the third side by a large dormitory block across the street. On the North, he proposes a tower for future expansion which is neatly played off against the tennis courts across the street on the campus.

Regarding this, it is felt that Ciampi’s scheme does not allow for the required future expansion space as designated by the program, but this is not clear from study of the drawings.

––Edmund G. Burger
Patricia Coplans