Preview: the Bay Area gears up for the new BAMPFA by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Preview: the Bay Area gears up for the new BAMPFA by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

While there’s still four months to go until its official grand opening in January, the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive [BAMPFA] is shaping up to be a blockbuster addition to the Bay Area’s active creative scene. 

In an inspired case of adaptive reuse, Diller Scofidio + Renfro have transformed a 1930s-era former printing plant into an expansive, multifaceted ode to multimedia. What once was a kind of ’bunker,’ says BAMPFA Director Larry Rinder, is now a fully fenestrated, natural-light-filled haven that achieves the dual goals of accessibility and transparency, guided by a serene sense of flow and interplay from the exterior, and throughout the interior. Coupled with the bold red and grey highlights, it achieves an almost 2001: A Space Odyssey-like effect. 

The existing buildings included a disused factory and adjacent office. They were largely intact, but beset by seismic structural issues - a major factor in the earthquake-prone Bay Area - and abandoned for years in the centre of the bustling downtown college city. Diller Scofidio + Renfro kept the original structures, complete with Art Deco inflections and a trio of skylight bays in the expansive main event space, and united them with a second-story cafe ’dropped’ in between. This angular addition cantilevers out over Center Street and cuts a modern silhouette against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. 

Excavating the entire footprint doubled the square footage, and allowed for a series of subterranean spaces that include four additional galleries in the more traditional, four-white-wall style, as well as study centers with resources once only available to specialists. ’The goal is to store and preserve artifacts, but also allow people to engage with art in ways they haven’t before,’ Rinder says. 

A pair of purpose-built theaters will offer screenings both intimate - in the smaller, 32-seater - and robust - in a Meyer Sound-optimized auditorium that can accommodate 230 viewers - plus a 12-piece-band for silent film performances. And in dedication to its role as a true boon for the community, a 30-foot-wide LCD screen will adorn the facade on the flip-side, opening up the possibility for ’24/7 public programs and screenings,’ Rinder says. ’Our role is as a part of the life of the city-and the city doesn’t close down at 5pm.’

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