Berkeley Art Museum to Abandon Brutalist Building

The November 5, 1970, opening of the Berkeley Art Museum. Photo: Greg Peterson, the San Francisco Chronicle.

On Sunday, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) will move out of the Mario Ciampi-designed Brutalist building where it has resided since 1970. The museum will reopen when its new building from New York’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro in downtown Berkeley is completed in 2016, with a year of mobile exhibitions to bridge the gap.

The museum’s current home on Bancroft Way, across from the University of California, Berkeley, campus, was built near the end of the brief Brutalist craze, which saw a spate of heavy, fortress-like concrete buildings spring up across the U.S. and around the world. Unfortunately, Brutalism soon fell out of favor. Ciampi’s building is a cavernous, sculptural affair, full of tall, stacked, concrete cubes jutting off at odd angles, an unorthodox arrangement that sometimes presented challenges.

“The building works best when it’s presenting art that’s strong in its own right, that can stand up to the architecture,” museum director Larry Rinder told the San Francsico Chronicle. “Video art and sound art, we were always jerry-rigging a solution.”

Former director Jacquelynn Baas was also critical of the building, telling Inside Bay Area News that while Ciampi’s design “furthered Berkeley’s vision of itself as forward-thinking,” from the day it opened “it was already inadequate for its programs.”

When the new 82,000-square-foot building, which incorporates portions of the printing plant that previously occupied the site, opens, it will include galleries, a participatory art studio, a theater, and a learning center. However, the future for the old museum home, a Berkeley city landmark, is uncertain. The University of California, which manages the building, hasn’t decided how to use it.

For now, there’s still the swan song: “If You Go Let’s Go! A Farewell Revel,” a day-long party (11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.), free and open to the public, that will feature speeches, performance art, dance battles, and a create-your-own-museum workshop.


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