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Shimmery, Sleek Façade

Bpv Bampfa 002

Adaptive reuse museum highlighted by twisting, brushed stainless steel ribbon

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is the Smooth Metal Wall Panel Winner in the 2017 Metal Architecture Design Awards.

The seamlessly sleek skin of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) in Berkeley, Calif., caught the attention of the Design Award judges for its smoothness. The judges also remarked on the way the stainless steel was bent to create the hyperbolic forms as exemplifying a smooth metal façade.

Originally located on the university campus, the museum had to be moved to a new location in downtown Berkeley after its previous location was deemed seismically inefficient. Designed by New York City-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the new facility integrates the former UC Berkeley printing plant, a 48,000-square-foot 1939 Art Deco-style building, with a 35,000-square-foot new structure to create a new, dynamic and versatile facility for the museum's collections, programs and offices. Opened in January 2016, the distinctive north-facing sawtooth roof of the printing plant was preserved, allowing filtered natural light into many of the ground-floor galleries. The curvilinear addition, clad in stainless steel, brings the building into the 21st century.


The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is the Smooth Metal Wall Panel Winner in the 2017 Metal Architecture Design Awards.A Distinctive Form

Anthony Saby, associate principal at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, says the university was interested in preserving or adaptively reusing the press building and the old administration building, and then expanding where needed to accommodate the other programs. "The press building was a perfect opportunity to convert into gallery space, and the admin building was going to be able to take on--with some work--the office and support functions that were needed, but the film and library components were the two key things," he says.

The goal was to make the museum less hidden within the university and give it more of a prominent location. The facility's distinctive form extends from the theater volume at the northeast corner to the café, where it dramatically cantilevers above the main entrance on Center Street. The façade is marked by the twisting, brushed stainless steel ribbon that wraps itself around the existing building like a torqued filmstrip, connecting the various building components.

According to Saby, both the press building and the admin building required seismic upgrades. The addition, therefore, weaves between the two buildings to seismically shore them both up at the same time. "This allowed us to formulate the geometry from that, while also giving us a bit of liberty once we got past the suturing of the admin and the press building together," he explains. "The design is a byproduct of the program as well as seismic conditions, as well as some architectural determinations about how we thought the forms wanted to be, and what responded from a natural light perspective. Its shape is a counterpoint to the admin building."


The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is the Smooth Metal Wall Panel Winner in the 2017 Metal Architecture Design Awards.Material Counterbalance

The designers looked at and priced out stainless steel, aluminum and zinc before settling on stainless steel for the cladding. Saby says they always wanted the façade to be metal, so that it would act as a counterpart to the concrete of the admin building.

Additionally, "there was an interest in how metal worked from a rainscreen or performance envelope perspective, and also the impact of how it changes during the light and the atmosphere," he adds. "There was the thought that when we work with metal, we could shape and shift it to mold the things we needed to."

Stainless steel was the appropriate material for the project, Saby says, not only for its durability, but the ability to manipulate the finish. "When we finally satisfied the need for the right finish, we ended up going with a non-directional finish, which worked out really well from a sheen perspective, as well as durability and environmental perspectives," he explains.


The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is the Smooth Metal Wall Panel Winner in the 2017 Metal Architecture Design Awards.Digital Designs

MG McGrath Inc., Maplewood, Minn., was brought in during the design phase to work closely with the UC Berkeley and BAMPFA project team on the building renovations, furnishings and installation of the metal skin and exterior glazing, as well as the curtainwall entrances and skylights.

To create the façade, Diller Scofidio + Renfro created a digital model that included the surface geometry as well as the major and minor panel joints. "Because of the rigidness of the material and the amount of radii and warping of the surface, MG McGrath worked collaboratively with the architect to identify the shape that the panels would need to have in order to fit the surface geometry," says Lee Pepin, director of virtual design and construction at MG McGrath.

Following the approval of hand-sketched drawings and mock-ups, MG McGrath incorporated the specs into the source model and fabricated the panels entirely off of the model. "This allowed for better understanding of how the geometry and the panels themselves would interact with one another, enhanced coordination internally (among our designers, welders, fabricators and installers) as well as the project team as a whole, and overall increased accuracy," Pepin explains.

MG McGrath brought in specialty framer, Minneapolis-based Radius Track, to use its Curved-Right framing solution between the building's structural system and the metal skin. Pepin says clash detection and systems coordination helped identify and solve potential conflicts virtually.

Every panel was custom fabricated and unique. Pepin says MG McGrath was able to create six templates to work off of in crafting each of the individual panels, allowing simplification for the mass customization. "With 1/8-inch joint tolerances from panel to panel, there was no room for error," Pepin adds.

"There's a lot of ingenuity in this system," Saby says. "There's a lot that goes beyond just the complexity of the surface and what we ask the material to do, but really how we developed the details and how some of the other requirements, particularly building in California and that seismic requirement, that we were able to conceal those things; make the skin feel as seamless as possible. But when you pull back just a little bit of the onion, you see all of the complexity that is living underneath it."


Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), Berkeley, Calif.
February 2016
Total square footage: 83,000 square feet
Owner: University of California, Berkeley
Design architect: Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York City,
Executive architect: EHDD Architects, San Francisco,
General contractor: Plant Construction, San Francisco,
Fabricator/installer: MG McGrath Inc., Maplewood, Minn.,
Specialty framer: Radius Track, Minneapolis,
Photos: Joe Brennan, Phalanx Studios