Founded in 1963, Berkeley Art Museum is one of the largest university art museums in the country. In 1964, a competition was held for the design of a new museum building and the commission was awarded to Mario Ciampi and Associates. The selection jury declared, “The richness of this building will arise from the sculptural beauty of its rugged major forms and will not require costly materials or elaborate details. We believe this design . . . can become one of the outstanding contributions to museum design in our time.” The distinctive Modernist design, a 101,000-square-foot reinforced concrete building, houses the museum’s 16,000 objects but no longer meets seismic standards, a particularly challenging problem for an open gallery and exhibition space that eschews adding support walls. The building was slated for demolition in 2005, despite Ciampi’s recommendations for addressing the seismic issues. A new museum building is being developed for downtown Berkeley, and the Ciampi building officially closed its doors in 2014. Although currently vacant, the Berkeley Art Museum is a City of Berkeley Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. No plans for a new occupant of the building have been announced.
Exterior shot. Photographer - Steven Addis
Interior shot. Photographer - Joe Fletche
The rugged spiraling layout of galleries, connected by balconies projecting back into central atrium space, providing a sunny spot for a sculpture garden.
Made of site-cast concrete, Berkeley Art Museum is an excellent example of Brutalism. The building’s innovative design provides little curb appeal from the outside, but once inside the courtyard, the (originally unsupported) cantilevered spans welcome the visitor into a gallery space brought to life by multiple skylights.
The Berkeley Art Museum occupies a portion of a 1.7-acre, landscaped site at 2626 Bancroft Way in Berkeley. The building is one of the most distinctive landmarks of midcentury modern design in Berkeley, occupying a prominent site opposite the UC Berkeley campus. Designed by the idiosyncratic San Francisco architect, Mario Ciampi, and built in 1970, the museum is one of the best examples of the Brutalist style remaining in the Bay Area. The building is largely radial in plan, with concrete ramps leading up from the atrium at the center of the first floor to a series of galleries that radiate off this central fulcrum in several different directions. The exterior of the building reflects its interior plan, with accordion-fold walls, cantilevered concrete volumes, and a sky-lit roof that steps down from Durant to Bancroft Way as a series of tiered, radial wedges. Damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the building’s cantilevered volumes are reinforced with steel brace frames. The building’s future is uncertain now that it is no longer the home of the Berkeley Art Museum.