University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, CA


UC Berkeley CED Launches Virtual Bauer Wurster Where Studios, Reviews, and Community Thrive

By sfullerton
Feb 1, '21 3:51 PM EST

BERKELEY, CA — This spring, the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley will launch a new virtual reality platform called Virtual Bauer Wurster, designed and created by CED Professor of Architecture Luisa Caldas and a team of students and VR specialists. Virtual Bauer Wurster is designed to replicate Bauer Wurster Hall, CED’s physical home on the UC Berkeley campus, and provides a platform for collaboration, community building, and creativity. The project was generously funded by Architecture ‘11 alum Shawn Tsao at the start of the pandemic, which left students without a way to collaborate in a studio environment. 

Users will be able to enter Virtual Bauer Wurster by downloading the custom application and will choose an avatar that will represent them as they navigate the virtual space. Once inside, the user can explore anywhere they might go when physically in the building — from the gallery, to the courtyard, to the studio floors where students work at their assigned desks. One of the most innovative features is that students who work in Virtual Bauer Wurster will be able to upload their 2D drawings and 3D models to their desks in real time, and communicate with one another inside the platform.

When designing the application, Caldas wanted an emphasis on communication due to the fact that students are greatly missing the collaborative aspect of the studio experience. “How do you communicate so that it isn't an isolated experience? That’s ultimately what we wanted to achieve. We want students to be able to create synchronous interactions in the space and have tools that fit their style of communication,” said Caldas. Now in its test phase, the application indeed provides diverse and interactive communication with the ability to leave a classmate a post-it note on their desk, use sound to speak to someone, open a chat dialogue, make a video call, incorporate a slack channel, or even use their very own laser pointer — all without leaving the VR world, and without requiring more than a regular laptop, no headsets being required. 

Since the final week of January, Caldas has been teaching a special course with a small group of architecture graduate students who will be testing the application, bandwidth, and usability. Over the five week course, Caldas and her students will engage in studio reviews and social events, and test out the collaborative environments. Caldas plans to have them come up with “on the fly” events and gatherings to test what is possible and to activate the new space. “I want the space to feel like home, the way the studios do to our students in Bauer Wurster Hall,” Caldas said, “when we invite the rest of our college to use the application, I want them to feel welcome and free to explore as they would during in-person instruction.” 

Normally, Bauer Wurster Hall is open to students 24/7, and every one of the building's 10 floors are typically bustling with students at all hours. During the day, you might catch faculty and students doing pin-up reviews in the lobby, an exhibition in the gallery, a line out the door for lunch at Rice and Bones, students working together on projects, and even the stairwells are generously used for navigating the building’s maze, allowing you to pass friends and colleagues in between floors. Virtual Bauer Wurster will seek to bring back some of that sense of togetherness. 

While most of the college’s enrolled students will be given access this Spring based on bandwidth and updates, the public will also be invited to experience Virtual Bauer Wurster. On March 29, the first public event, Deanna Van Buren’s prestigious Rupp Prize exhibition Building for a Decarceration Nation, will include a gallery talk and Q&A session and will remain open to the public through May 15, 2021. The exhibit will be located in two spaces, the Bauer Wurster Gallery and Room 108 and will present full-scale models of several mobile responses that Designing Justice + Designing Spaces has created and deployed as part of their work to address the root causes of mass incarceration. These include a mobile refuge room for formerly-incarcerated people; mobile vending units for micro-entrepreneurs; and the Hit/Hug Punching Bag, which was created for youth to interact with in preparation for peacemaking. Visitors will be able to enter into and engage with 3D models of the artifacts of decarceration, and in doing so they’ll be exposed to a range of design responses at a small scale. The exhibit will also include imagery, videos, and descriptions of DJDS’s work in action in the world.

Public Events Exhibition on View: Building for a Decarceration Nation
March 29-May 15, 2021
Virtual Bauer Wurster
A link to the virtual exhibition will be posted here.

Gallery Talk with Deanna Van Buren
Monday, March 29 at 1pm PST 
Livestreamed at 
and available in Virtual Bauer Wurster

For more information, please contact Sarah Fullerton, Director of Communications [email protected]. All rights reserved by the Regents of California, University of California, Berkeley, College of Environmental Design, and Luisa Caldas.