U.C. Berkeley redevelops a historic plaza to reconnect the campus to the city

With a renovation and a new building, the University of California, Berkeley has redefined an important plaza and established a stronger connection between campus and the city.

The four buildings and two outdoor spaces that define Upper and Lower Sproul Plaza and together constitute the Student Center at the University of California, Berkeley, were a veritable minefield for any architect or university administrator thinking of redeveloping the area.

Step on the wrong spot and an explosion of protest would surely erupt. After all, this was where the Free Speech Movement began in 1964, setting off an era of student activism on campuses around the country.

More than four decades later, as the 2008 recession deepened, students at U.C. Berkeley were again angry, this time over tuition increases. Messing with the school’s Student Center would not be easy.

By inserting discrete pieces to an existing complex and opening up pathways to its surroundings, MRY exercised a form of architectural acupuncture on Berkeley’s Student Center.

And by knowing where to push and where not to step, the firm navigated a dangerous political terrain that might have derailed a less sensitive plan.

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