UC Berkeley’s new East Asian Library

The stone stairway connecting the building’s four floors occupies a vertical slice of space in the building’s center; the stairs are cantilevered off a concrete “spine” wall. The resulting void permits light to filter down from the rooftop to the floors below.

Although the array of skylights on the roof’s north slope is not visible on the floors below, a partial view of them can be seen on the fourth floor. The opposing planes of the ceiling form an east-west slot filled with light that changes with the time of day. The effect is magical. In fact, it’s worth visiting the building just to experience it.

Two photographs above by Jonathan Reo

Creating the entrance mandated for the library’s east end was, as the architects noted, a “huge challenge” for several reasons. The ramped path for wheelchair access from the Memorial Drive bus stop downhill from the main, third-floor entrance leads to an elevator on the lower level of the east end.

Access to the east end and third floor entrance level, shown below, also had to be provided from a steeply sloping road from the north campus entrance that runs past the library and down to Memorial Drive.

Above: view of the main entrance looking north; below: view from the entrance looking south to Doe Library. The architects have met the circulation challenges by providing so many alternative ways to reached the third-level main entrance and the lower level elevator as well as paths to the east/west Memorial Drive that there is a feeling of too many options and some confusion about their relative importance.

Two photographs above by Sally Woodbridge

Although in respect to form and materials, the EAL has fulfilled the New Century Plan’s criteria for the campus’ landmarked core area, the architects have reformulated the bi-lateral symmetry of the classic box. While the great bronze grill on the south side implies a bi-lateral symmetry by confronting Doe Library’s main entrance, centered in the long facade facing the EAL, users follow a longitudinal path along the interior street running the length of the building from its east to its west side. The openness of this circulation does not recall that of libraries of the neo-classical period.

But, overall, the East Asian Library can be said to harmonize with the campus’s Classical Core. Even though its appearance is contemporary, its effect is appropriately dignified and serene.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *