Bergin @ Berkeley

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    // 2010 Retrospective

    Michael S Bergin
    Dec 31, '10 1:35 PM EST

    During my first semester at Berkeley (M. Arch Option 2), I learned a great deal about the program that I would like to share with you.

    Berkeley is undergoing a shift of thought that makes it difficult to pin down exactly what the school's pedagogical aims may be. The new chair of the architecture program, Tom Buresh, has an omnipresence that shows promise for consolidating the diverse agendas of the faculty. The incoming M. Arch Option 2 students were made to take part in a comprehensive studio (the first time this was mandatory). The three studios were taught by Roddy Creedon, Jill Stoner and Tom Buresh’s partner, Danelle Guthrie. I chose Guthrie’s studio in part to get a feel for what direction Berkeley may be heading in my time here. Our site turned out to be a barren site adjacent to a grain mill in post-industrial Petaluma, California. The program was a live/work arrangement that focused on the production of ‘goods’, and however one would interpret the idea of ‘goods’.

    I praise Berkeley highly for allowing me the opportunity to choose classes that made my studio experience truly ‘comprehensive’ as I took ‘Structures in the Studio’ with Gary Black, an accomplished structural engineer and architect who worked closely with Christopher Alexander. Gary was extremely helpful and worked in a similar manner to an Architect/Engineer relationship in an ideal ‘real world’ situation, providing consultation and input to evolve the design so that structural needs were always integrated with architectural progress.

    In addition to ‘Structures in the Studio’ I took another course which was a crucial aid in my studio project, ‘inDetails’ with Rene’ Davids. inDetails is a course which combines readings analyzing the historical development of detailing leading to present day practices in rapid-prototyping. These readings were combined with weekly presentations by Bay Area architects including Stanley Saitowitz, Jim Jennings and Field Architects discussing their personal approach to detailing while discussing selected details from their projects. The final result of this course was a one-to-one detail from our studio project that was drawn, modeled and presented along with our studio projects.

    I also took Dana Buntrock’s graduate level Intro to Construction at the recommendation of Ray Kinoshita-Mann, a favorite professor from my undergraduate studies at UMass Amherst. Her course was incredibly clear, concise and showed a uncommon passion for construction techniques that helped solidify my knowledge of the major construction types. In addition to classroom lectures, we formed groups and performed case studies on buildings under construction in the Bay Area. Our group chose to study the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Building (SFPUC) adjacent to City Hall in downtown San Francisco. This is a 13 story concrete structure that is built for ‘immediate occupancy’ in the event of an earthquake up to 9.0 in magnitude. The study was an invaluable introduction to seismic construction and the contractor, Webcor Builders, was very helpful in giving us an inside look at the design of their construction plan.

    One of the classes outside of my courses that caught my eye was Ron Rael’s ‘Digital Fabrication in Ceramics’ course. In this class students designed a three-dimensional model using Modo and instead of 3D printing with starch which is a more common technique, the system was ‘hacked’ by carving the negative using a CNC router. More information about this class can be found at

    Brian Gillett’s Tile from Ron Rael’s Digital Fabrication in Ceramics Course – Photo : Govinda DeCastro

    If I had to pin down what Berkeley is all about from my experiences this last semester, I would say that… I can’t. There are as many directions as there are students and that’s probably how it should be. When we attended the Open House we were warned that if we didn’t have any pre-disposed interests or direction then we would be at a great disadvantage. That proved to be very true, as our studio allowed us to craft our own programs those without agendas had to quickly develop one, or fall behind. I am excited to have developed a stable foundation for my thesis this semester integrating my interests of responsible construction, evidence-based design and community involvement in the design process that I will continue to develop over the next three semesters.

    Other highlights of the semester included lectures by Francisco Pardo from at103 a visiting professor along with Burke and Burke who taught a ‘sustainable house’ studio. A ‘eye opening’ lecture from blind architect and Berkeley alum Christopher Downey, who practices in San Francisco A seminar course with weekly lectures which included a trip where the class was courted by Leo Chao, Principal of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in their San Francisco office… A trip to China with for Thesis students working with Harrison Fraker and Rene Chao in their study of planning and architectural success for Tianjin, a city of 10 million… the Branner Award, a year long travel fellowship which was awarded to Bryan Allen and Justin Short who have just begun their travels. Bryan’s blog can be found at The 2009 fellow Nick Sowers blog can be found on the Archinect School Blog Project. I hope to have more time for regular contributions in 2011, good luck to all prospective M. Arch students (portfolio deadline today!) and thanks for reading. – M.

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