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

A street level view of the new museum from outside. The rectangular building has three floors with 9 columns of windows that are illuminated. To the right the building continues back with an arch-style roof.
The new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive by Diller Scofidio + Renfro will be a key addition to the Bay Area
(Image credit: Iwan Baan)

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.'

A street level view of the building from a different location focusing on ground floor section with the sign above the building.

Scheduled to open officially in 2016, the project is an inspired case of adaptive reuse

(Image credit: Iwan Baan)

A street level view of the building at dusk with illuminated windows..

The archive will be housed in a transformed 1930s-era former printing plant; including a disused factory and adjacent office

(Image credit: Iwan Baan)

Inside the building. A white interior with a large open space supported by steel beams.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro redesigned the space into a modern, multimedia hub that will be open and accessible to the public

(Image credit: Iwan Baan)

Inside the building with open space ready for exhibitions.

The existing buildings' gallery spaces will now be complemented by a series of subterranean display halls; this was achieved by excavating the entire footprint and doubling the scheme's square footage

(Image credit: Iwan Baan)

Inside the building with red walls and an angular window.

An angular addition cuts a modern silhouette for the archive, creating contemporary shapes inside and out

(Image credit: Iwan Baan)


Photography: Iwan Baan