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American Society of Landscape Architects


February 2007 Issue

Campus Cloister
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 in 2000.

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 many years.

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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