The new Brower Center in Berkeley
The recently completed David Brower Center in downtown Berkeley is a memorial to a major figure in this country’s environmental movement. Brower served as the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club from 1952 fo 1960 and later founded such environmental organizations as Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, and Earth Island Institute. He inspired a generation of environmental activists, some of whom now work in the building at the intersection of Allston Way and Oxford Street that bears his name.
Thirty some national and international groups occupy 24,000 sq. ft. of office space on the building’s upper three floors. Their mission is to foster collaborations, engage new people in advocacy and facilitate cross-sector communication and partnerships.
Although the work of the building’s tenants is a story in itself, the subject of this article is the Center’s building design and its structural system, which were created to insure that the physical embodiment of Brower’s legacy would be a state-of-the-art expression of his life’s work. The building is on track to receive a LEED platinum rating—the highest possible—from the US Green Building Council.
The building’s site is unusual in that the corner it faces has a rounded edge. This feature prompted the architects, WRT/Solomon E.T.C., to design a rounded façade that enables a more natural flow of space than the typical right-angled street corner. Pedestrian traffic flows from the building’s entrance on Allston Street past the Center’s ground-floor restaurant, Gather, to a gated open space between the Center and the apartment complex, Oxford Plaza.
The building’s façade suggests a temple form with engaged columns set on a raised base, a slightly projecting attic story above, and a cornice, which departs from the classical type by continuing the solid array of photovoltaic panels on the south side with a slatted trellis that follows the roof line and rises as it curves around the eave from south to north like an upturned hat brim.
The panels’ downward slant on the south side moderates the greater amount of daylight entering the building from that direction and reduce heat gain in the summer; their upward tilt on the north side increase the admission of light to meet the seasonal greater need. Measures like these have made the interior nearly 100% daylit.
In respect to materials, the metal used for the façade is zinc, which requires less energy to mine and work into forms than aluminum or steel. Its matt surface avoids glare. The window glass redirects sunlight and thereby reduces heat gain. Operable window sections allow changes in ventilation.
The concrete used in the building is 70% blast furnace slag in the foundation and 50% slag in the super structure. The use of this by-product of manufacturing steel reduces the building’s energy content and its “carbon footprint” by 40%. The Brower Center is the first Bay Area Project to use high-slag concrete on such a scale.