Nearly 60 years on, the 2-story concrete columns of the former PG&E bill-payment center stand tall in the civic hub of downtown Berkeley, Calif. The utilitarian, industrial building has, however, adopted a new color palette: bright green. It also has a new purpose: serving Berkeley teens.
When the Berkeley YMCA first approached PG&E to inquire about purchasing the decommissioned bill-payment center, PG&E responded by donating the building—the first of many displays of cooperation and collaboration for the greater good and a commitment to Berkeley’s youth.
The building is centrally located within Berkeley’s downtown core, which creates a visual and geographic connection to Berkeley’s central civic park, adjacent police station and school-board building. Berkeley High, Berkeley’s only high school, sits across the street, making the YMCA a convenient and safe place for teens to hang out after school. The prominent location makes a weighty statement of the city’s priorities and commitment to the future.
With the site secured, the next step was for a design team to get involved, but the design-assist delivery method would have some special variables: A Teen Task Force would be involved in every step of the project, beginning with evaluating and selecting the architecture firm to design their building. The opportunity to involve the end-users in the bidding, design and construction process was a clear win-win.
“We’ve been able to give these kids an unbelievable project experience,” says Fran Gallati, YMCA CEO.
Noll & Tam Architects, a Berkeley-rooted firm with a strong commitment to the community and sustainability, was selected to lead the project. Thanks to the firm’s vision, the adaptive reuse of the existing building came to fruition.
WINDOW WITH A VIEW
Although the building was designed as a purely functional space with very little room designated for public interaction, Noll & Tam never considered demolition. The potential for adaptive reuse was so great that the design team, informed by the Teen Task Force, felt the project’s goals could be achieved within the existing building.
“Pretty much all of the structure remains … the idea was to be as progressive as possible and part of that means being sustainable,” explains Janet Tam, principal-in-charge.
The existing 4,500-square-foot footprint, architectural lines and prominent columns largely remain the same; the previous structure makes up 40 percent of the total new structure. However, the original poured-in-place concrete building’s eastern and western façades were windowless, and its colonnaded southern façade, which looks out over a park and across to Berkeley High School, included a dark, nondescript portal—less than ideal for a vibrant teen center.
The concrete box-like construction provided a strong foundation to work from: To liven up the dark, foreboding feel of the space, the team added operable windows to the previously non-fenestrated façades while maintaining most of the concrete structure and the waffle slab on the second floor. The tilt-up panels were removed and the east and west walls gained windows to bring in daylight and allow views in and out of the program spaces.
Other features, such as a hydronic heating system, were added into the floor slabs on the first and third floors, and photovoltaic panels, which generate electricity for the building and hot water, were mounted to the roof. The building has achieved LEED Platinum.
PHOTOS: David Wakely Photography unless otherwise noted