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UC Berkeley’s Student Athlete High Performance Center


UC Berkeley was investigating several project initiatives in the Southeast District of the campus, an area that had grown organically, with little comprehensive vision, along Piedmont Avenue, one of the original Olmsted-defined avenues that described the extent of the campus. These projects included a collaborative undertaking between the Haas School of Business and Berkeley’s School of Law known as the Law and Business Connection Building – to be located between both schools – as well as the Student Athlete High Performance Center (SAHPC), a much-needed athletic facility dedicated to both Cal Bears football and high-level sports training, including Olympic training. In an effort to give vision to these projects in the context of the extended campus, Berkeley hired landscape architect David Rubin, former partner at OLIN, now of David Rubin | LAND COLLECTIVE, to define the connective elements that would unify these projects into a Southeast Campus Master Plan, fostering connectivity across Piedmont and unifying the extended area with the rest of campus. Simultaneously developing the vision plan, Rubin collaborated with architectural teams on the Stadium effort (HNTB Los Angeles and STUDIOS Architecture SF) and the Law and Business project (Moore Ruble Yudell Architects) to ensure that the ideals of the bigger vision were also included in these projects. 

Although the Law and Business collaboration did not come to fruition, the SAHPC building and ancillary projects associated with the upgrade of the historic stadium moved forward. Working with HNTB Los Angeles and Studios Architecture SF, Rubin redefined the proposed facility not as a four-sided construct that would compete with the historic structure, but as a complementary structure that could harmoniously fit within the significant topography of the site (Berkeley’s stadium is set on a steep slope such that the western façade is fully expressed while the eastern façade is non-existent – the eastern edge is flush with grade) and preserve and embellish the historic vista to the stadium (in a majority of the stadium’s life, the façade acted as a wayfinding device and identifier for this area of campus).  By pushing the SAHPC down into the ground and taking advantage of the slope of the land, the resultant built form would be expressed as a “smile” on the western face, while the roof of the building could become a viable civic landscape for the University, supporting the campus when 65,000 people are in attendance at a game, or on non-game days, when students, faculty and administration are seeking a new, sacred space within the campus. 

In collaboration with the building architects, Rubin used landscape principles to inform the character of the new structure. With consideration to the potential composition as a whole, somehow, the materiality of the project had to unify the articulated, board-formed concrete Beaux Arts stadium with the rhyolite wall running along Piedmont’s northern eastern sidewalk and everything in between. Informed by John Dixon Hunt’s writings on “The Three Natures,” where proximity to culture is defined in the landscape through increasing refinement and decreasing rustication, Rubin created a palette of stone and concrete that changes as one approaches the stadium from Piedmont.  This Renaissance principle defines landscape in three parts – the cultured landscape (manicured gardens), the agricultural landscape (productive fields), and the Realm of the Gods (that area of nature described as “wild”). Olmsted understood these principles, whether explicit or inferred, and deployed them in his work, including the Biltmore estate and Central Park. Applied at Berkeley, the coarse nature of the Rhyolite wall became the most rusticated threshold, the SAHPC walls and façade were generated in degrees of refinement in stone and concrete from more coarse to less coarse, and the historic stadium walls represent the most refined surface – an articulated Beaux Arts façade. 

What used to be parking and drive lanes encircling the stadium is now a civic plaza which serves the campus as a gathering space, where the landscape of the Oak Grove climbs up on top of the new structure, creating an ecotone of greater diversity that will, eventually, link the Oak Grove with the Berkeley Hills to the northeast. Previous to this project, the Oak Grove was isolated – an island of landscape surrounded by Piedmont and parking.  One of the greatest challenges of the project was convincing the administration of the viability of landscape over structure. Using built examples and Rubin’s twenty years of experience designing landscapes over structure, the administration was guardedly convinced of the importance of landscape elements in creating a new civic space that would become a gathering point for the University on game- and non-game days throughout the year.