Berkeley student housing ignites a town vs. gown debate.
By Alex Ulam
Gary Strang, ASLA, created an award-winning landscape design
for two new dormitory infill projects at the University of California at
Berkeley that is a critical success. However, for many residents in the
surrounding neighborhood, Strang’s landscapes are dismal failures as public
spaces. Others are perturbed because the new landscapes replaced 1950s-era
landscapes by Lawrence Halprin, FASLA, that were a defining element in the
original dormitory complexes that the city of Berkeley designated as landmarks
The Halprin and Strang landscape designs represent two very
different visions of the city of Berkeley. The Halprin landscape reflected
qualities that are disappearing from the city. It incorporated aspects of
Northern California’s landscape architecture tradition and related to the
architecture of the neighborhood. In contrast, Strang’s design reflects the
dislocating effects that many densifiying communities throughout the country
are facing. It is urban and hard edged, it relates to its immediate context
more than to the surrounding neighborhood, and most significant, it is set in
the center of UC Berkeley’s largest off-campus dormitory expansion project in
Strang’s award-winning landscape was built in conjunction
with a series of new dormitory buildings by the San Francisco-based
architecture firm EHDD. The project constitutes a complete redesign of the two
original dormitory complexes built between 1957 and 1959 by John Carl Warnecke
and Associates in conjunction with Halprin & Associates. The
Warnecke/Halprin design won an award citation from the journal Progressive Architecture. Each complex
comprised four nine-story modernist concrete towers located at the periphery of
the site. The towers, which even today are among the tallest buildings in
Berkeley, were placed around glass-walled dining pavilions two stories high.
The pavilions were set amid a landscape by Halprin that created a human-scaled
indoor/outdoor effect in keeping with Northern Californian landscape design.
Halprin’s landscape muted the effect of the slab-shaped
concrete towers with busy walkways and trellises interlaced with flowing
wisteria. The dormitory complexes each accommodated about 900 students, a very
dense population relative to that of the surrounding neighborhood, which is
composed largely of an eclectic mix of low-rise buildings. Halprin’s landscapes
became a defining feature of the complexes as well as the streetscape.
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