Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
April 21st, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
The Ed Roberts Campus is one of the first buildings of its kind in the nation – a community center serving and celebrating the Independent Living / Disabled Rights Movement. Located at a regional transit hub and integrating advanced strategies of Universal Design and Sustainable Design, the ERC is designed to welcome and support people of all abilities.
The Ed Roberts Campus (ERC) is a nonprofit corporation formed by seven organizations that share a common history in the Independent Living/Civil Rights Movement of People with Disabilities. In 1998, these seven organizations joined together to plan and develop a universally designed, transit-oriented and environmentally sustainable campus located at the Ashby BART Station in South Berkeley. Commemorating the life and work of Edward V. Roberts, an early leader in the independent living movement of persons with disabilities, the ERC will become the foremost disability rights service, advocacy, education, training, and policy center in the world.
Ed Roberts (1939-1995) was an international leader and educator in the independent living and disability rights movements. He fought throughout his life to enable all persons with disabilities to fully participate in society. Ed was a true pioneer: he was the first student with significant disabilities to attend UC Berkeley. He was a founder of UC’s Physically Disabled Students Program, which became the model for Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living (CIL) and over 400 independent living centers across the country. He was one of the early directors of CIL. He was the first California State Director of Rehabilitation with a disability; he was awarded a MacArthur fellowship; and he was co-founder and President of the World Institute on Disability.
The concept of the Campus took form shortly after Ed’s death in 1995. The Berkeley Mayor’s Office convened a meeting of representatives from the City Council, UC Berkeley, CIL, WID and other disability leaders to discuss how to memorialize Ed’s work. Disability community leaders decided they could best commemorate Ed’s work by supporting the organizations that he helped start and the Independent Living Movement that he championed. They decided to do this by establishing a center dedicated to fostering collaboration and improving the services and opportunities for people with disabilities locally and worldwide.
Located on an existing BART parking lot adjacent to the Ashby Station, the site faces west to busy Adeline Street and beyond to a large urban open space created by another BART parking lot. The balance of the site borders a neighborhood of small, single family homes. A portion of the existing BART parking lot was retained.
The ERC is an 85,000 sf facility designed from the ground up to meet the needs of people with all ability levels. The program includes exhibition space, community meeting rooms, a childcare center for children with disabilities, a fitness center, offices, vocational training facilities and a café gathered around an enclosed courtyard. A sub-grade garage provides parking for staff and visitors and integrates the project with the adjacent BART station.
The design process spanned over five years and involved intensive community engagement with the neighbors, merchants and the historic preservation community of South Berkeley. Additionally, numerous public Universal Design workshops were held to ensure that the needs of the disabled community were carefully met.
The ERC is designed as an important community building with a distinct civic presence that celebrates the collective values of its partner organizations. The building acts as both community center and urban threshold, positioning the partner organizations at a major regional transit portal. This serves the dual purpose of providing convenient access for ERC staff and visitors – who rely heavily on mass transit – as well as encouraging greater interaction with the surrounding community.
On Adeline Street, the building presents a sweeping semicircular plaza to the city – an embracing, civic gesture that expresses its important role in the community. The plaza serves several functions: as a drop-off and entry space for the ERC; as a transit plaza for bus, taxi, bicycle and BART riders; and as a public gathering space. A transparent entry façade bordering the plaza displays a monumental helical ramp inside. The ramp, a major work of public art beneath a skylit rotunda, serves both functional and symbolic roles, expressing the spirit of Universal Design by providing dramatic access to the upper floor for all users. A public exhibition space occupies the center of the ramp. An enclosed courtyard beyond provides natural daylight and community gathering spaces while offering central access to all of the tenant organizations.
At the exterior, a palette of durable finishes includes sandblasted concrete, stucco and sustainably harvested Ipe’ wood screens. The screens provide sun protection and address the scale of neighboring commercial buildings. The play of light and shadow they create imprints the facades with the passage of the sun and the changing seasons. At the north end of the project, the screens frame the entry to a reconfigured BART parking lot east of the building. At the southern and eastern exposures, the building responds to the low scale and finer texture of the surrounding residential neighborhood. To the south along Woolsey Street, the building steps back away from the street, making room for a Childcare Center playground at the street level and a common roof terrace above. A sloping steel fascia spans the Adeline Street façade, spatially containing the public plaza and rising to the south to culminate at the prominent corner of Adeline and Woolsey Streets. Here, the wood screens below reach out to enfold existing, mature redwood trees within the composition.
Universal Design at the ERC
Guided by the principles of Universal Design – the creation of environments that are equally usable by individuals of all abilities – the project exceeds the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Universal Design strategies and elements were selected to maximize benefits to the broadest variety of users while remaining economical and replicable by others.
Key Universal Design features include:
Sustainable Design at the ERC
Located at a major public transportation hub above the Ashby BART Station, the ERC is conceived as a transit-based, environmentally responsible development. The project incorporates a range of sustainable design strategies to serve the needs of the occupants as well as the larger environment.
Sustainable Design features include:
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