The new Brower Center in Berkeley


A section drawing shown below that cuts through the middle of the building reveals a range of energy-conserving strategies which are  shown with explanatory captions in the small images that follow.

Perhaps the building’s most intriguing aspect–what the engineering firm, Tipping Mar, has called its “self-healing” structure–is hidden from view. It is a lateral structural system that uses vertical post-tensioning cables in the building’s walls and frames where they act as springs that allow the building to bend and sway in an earthquake and then pull back to its original alignment.  The engineers believe that this re-centering behavior will allow the Brower Center to remain usable following a seismic event which would likely result in costly repair for a conventional structure.

A computer simulation of the building's earthquake response, showing the moment frames (left and right) and the post-tensioned core walls in the center, where the elevator and stairwell are located, that give the structure is recentering ability. Animation by Tipping Mar

The Brower Center’s design features include:

  • Construction using 53% recycled materials.
  • Photovoltaic panels which are also sun shades.
  • 100% of all office areas are daylit.
  • Collection and reuse of rainwater for irrigation and toilet flushing.
  • Extremely low energy mechanical systems using radiant heating and cooling within the building’s concrete structural slabs.
  • Solar shading devices on all south-facing windows.
  • High efficiency lighting with automatic controls to limit use when adequate daylight is available.
  • Concrete with slag to significantly reduce CO2 and cement content, and to increase strength.
  • Vertically post-tensioned structure to minimize potential damage due to earthquakes.
  • Operable windows and low pressure ventilation via the raised floor system to maximize indoor air quality.
  • Co2 sensors that call for extra fresh air if required.
  • Exterior and interior materials that ensure healthy air quality, maximize recycled content, avoid off-gassing, and minimize environmental impacts from production and transportation.

6 Responses

  1. Barbara Seaton says:

    Sally’s article made me want to travel right out to CA to experience the Brower Center for myself. Despite the excellent photos and descriptive material, I found it difficult to visualize the entirety. But as a longtime Sierra Club member, I appreciated the architects’ intent in honoring Brower.

  2. Gina Phelan says:

    A quick response to Dorothy’s comment about the height of the Brower Center: it was built up to Berkeley’s zoning maximum.

  3. Sally Woodbridge says:

    I appreciate Jay’s and Dorothy’s comments because they add different points of view to my article, and that is always welcome. We need more public discussion to better inform both the general public and the design community.

  4. Dorothy Walker says:

    Unfortunately, this innovative and impressive building and the adjacent housing underutilized an important site in City ownership near a BART station and across from the mass of the University’s Edwards Track Stadium. If it were several floors taller, this development would be even more “green”, its architecture more impressive, and it would have a more appropriate scale and create a better sense of place. With a larger vision, this site could have led the way demonstrating how a few taller buildings could transform Berkeley’s Downtown and support transit oriented development.

  5. A very informative and illuminating essay that helps me appreciate the building as it might be experienced without the oppressive closeness of the Oxford Plaza Apartments. Unfortunately, from the street the building cannot be understood as it is from Tim Griffith’s excellent photography and Woodbridge’s narrative. The view from the nearby upper level of a campus building shows the Brower Center as it should be seen. Fortunately,when Gather Restaurant is open, there is more of the spirit that the article describes. Perhaps if and when the area on the west side of Edwards Stadium across the street is free of its intrusive building and relandscaped, the Brower Center will appear more as it is described than as it is at present, which is a bit like walking past a Greek temple on a narrow infill lot in a declining downtown.

  6. Suzanne Harris says:

    Very impressive. Great Photos.

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