Bergin @ Berkeley

Architecture Research Lab

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    // Californication

    Michael S Bergin
    Aug 2, '10 3:39 AM EST

    Since my last post I've found a house in Berkeley. This weekend we unloaded the POD into the new house and threw a small party to celebrate that achievement. I met and re-acquainted myself with some of the Option III students who are taking the Summer Program, they are all very promising and I'm becoming more excited by the day for the semester to begin.

    Finding a place to live was an incredible task, with hundreds of houses/apartments added to Craigslist daily coupled with the intense competition to secure a place in town, we had no less than 3 places we thought were a done deal before we actually signed a lease. I am happy to report that the search paid off, we found an incredible house with a serene garden fenced off from the street. I have a fireplace that I'm actually going to have to use to heat the house and learning how to make a good fire is high on my list of priorities. We also have a jacuzzi tub...

    We studied the neighborhoods of Berkeley thoroughly before choosing a place to live, and I'm glad that we did. Berkeley has an incredible cultural topography as you would imagine, including a very high number of homeless persons in proportion to its population. Many of these persons were drawn to the area due to the 'disability independence' movement, where those with mental or physical disabilities are driven to live a self sufficient existence and fend for themselves. There are quite a few mentally ill and homeless centered around Telegraph Avenue, just South of Bancroft Avenue. Drug use is rampant as well, you can witness strung out hyper-excited folks wandering back and forth on the streets talking to themselves at all hours...

    So we ran from South Berkeley... after dreaming of living on Panoramic Hill, Claremont and the North Berkeley Hills (looking at a few places there) we decided that we didn't have what it takes to live up the hill, so we went with North Berkeley (Gourmet Ghetto area). While I have loved the Cheese Board pizza and the breakfast at Chester's, I have yet to be blown away by the food here, though I haven't tried the famed Chez Panisse yet (any recommendations?)

    I have rounded out my Summer reading list with the following books : The Timeless Way of Building and The Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Searching for True by Cutler Anderson, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, the University of California, Berkeley by Harvey Helfand Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, Why Architecture Matters by Paul Goldberger, Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein and Design on the Edge: 100 years of teaching at the CED by Lowell, Byrne and Frederick-Rothwell.

    I will focus on the Campus Guide, The Timeless Way of Building and 100 years of teaching at the CED because they are the most relevant to this blog.

    I wanted to get an idea for the history of the University and the CED in general so I bought a Campus Guide and spent a rainy day exploring the many early 20th century gems of the main campus, designed mostly by John Galen Howard, the founder of the Architecture program. The Beaux Arts style of the buildings is attributed to Patty Hearst's taste as she guided the building campaigns of the University. Some of my favorite spaces include the Main Reading Room at the Doe Library, the lobby and promenade in front of South Hall, and the courtyard of the Bechtel Engineering Center.

    The Timeless Way of Building was written by Christopher Alexander, who became a Berkeley Professor after graduate work at Cambridge in mathematics and completing the first PhD in Architecture ever awarded at Harvard. The book explores poetically yet pragmatically the importance of procedure and action in the development of 'patterns'. The recognizance and tasteful accommodation of those patterns is what makes high quality architecture, or that which is constructed in the timeless way. He has great arguments, and cites many examples from classical architecture and vernacular construction. I am curious as to how this body of thought fit into emerging Post-Modern theories as Denise Scott Brown was teaching at Berkeley in the late 1960s with Alexander before moving to UCLA to start the Architecture program there. The Pattern Language is a 'database' of the concepts introduced in the TWOB, and along with The Oregon Experiment they form a trilogy.

    Design on the Edge is a great collection of essays and short stories about the pedagogical and philosophical development of the architecture program as it evolved into the College of Environmental Design. It is becoming clear to me that the school has always had a sort of tenuous relationship with the mainstream, pushing underdog streams of thought like Building Science, Sustainable Design (before the 2000s), Socially Responsible Design, instead of jumping onto high fashion design trends. That makes me comfortable, the fact kept me from applying to Sci-Arc and a big reason in deciding not to attend Penn was because of a style over substance I sensed, that I can't put my heart into. I highly recommend this book for its beautiful drawings, images and stories for anyone interested in the history of the CED. I am just browsing through it at the moment and I'm sure it will appear in the blog again at a later date.

    By the way, I am and will be updating the Berkeley CED wiki periodically as I get time to document what I'm learning about the program.

    Leaving you with a quote from the Table of Contents of The Timeless Way of Building

    "The more living patterns there are in a place... the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintaining fire which is the quality without a name... and when a building has this fire it becomes a part of nature. Like ocean waves or blades of grass, its parts are governed by the endless play of repetition'.

    Thanks for reading.


    • iamjena

      Hi Michael,

      I am very much looking forward to reading about your experiences at Berkeley.. I went there for undergrad, graduated in 08. So sad you don't enjoy SouthSide! I guess it is more for undergrads - very noisy.

      Make sure you form your own opinions about the architecture on campus though.. I once had a professor of history who was a Howard purist, and made us step over that curved half-wall in front of Doe because it wasn't in Howard's original plans. He also loathed the annex... as most people do, and wouldn't allow us inside it.
      Other than the 10th floor of Wurster (only allowed access at certain times), you can find a great view of the bay from the top of Barrows.

      Also, would you do me a favor and say hello to my favorite bum? He is usually found at random times in the middle of the night on the walk from Wurster to Strada - on the benches outside of Kroeber. He wears a beany, huge glasses, and smokes cigars.

      Wish you lots of luck, and enjoy Berkeley and CED!


      PS. Take a class with Ananya Roy. You won't regret it.

      Aug 2, 10 5:58 pm  · 

      I initially loved SouthSide when visiting, but outside of living in Elmwood (which I tried and tried to do) there were too many sacrifices to counter the obvious benefits of the liveliness and proximity to Wurster Hall.

      I have been forming my own opinions, exploring every corner of the campus I can when I get free time there. I love the campus-wide wi-fi system, the combination of wireless and beautiful outdoor study spaces has made for some very interesting brainstorming. I don't think I'm a Howard purist but I can see how someone could be... he was quite good.

      Part of me actually wishes we could build everything from Airports to Gas Stations as true Beaux Arts masterpieces... life would certainly be interesting.

      Aug 3, 10 1:18 am  · 

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