C.V. Starr East Asian Library

Location: University of California, Berkeley, CA
Date of Completion: 2008
Program: Library
Size: 69,000 SF
Sustainability: LEED Silver equivalent / Compliant wtih UC Sustainability standards
Awards: 2011 AIANY Architecture Honor Award, 2010 AIA California Council Award for Architecture Design, 2009 AIA/ALA Library Building Award
Photographer: Nic Lehoux / Michael Moran

The C.V. Starr East Asian Library faces Memorial Glade, the heart of the Berkeley campus.

 This is a symmetrical box broken by light. It is a repository for over 700,000 character language texts -one of North America’s most important collections. It is also a sanctuary for study used by many who study other varied disciplines.

The four-story building is cut into a steep hillside. The entrance on the third level is reached by a pedestrian bridge from the top of the observatory and a monumental stair from Memorial Glade below. The stairs and bridge meet at an overlook with a view of campus and on a clear day the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.

University design guidelines for this area of campus, known as the “classical core,” required a pitched clay tile roof, symmetrical façade and use of white granite. We developed a large screen, an important element of Asian Architecture, as an expression of the building’s Asian identity. This monumental sand-cast bronze screen combines both a traditional cracked ice pattern and contemporary grid. It unifies the exterior and creates the illusion of symmetry from the asymmetrical fenestration. Perforated metal screens behind the bronze grilles prevent direct sunlight from entering the building and minimize cooling loads. The building’s exterior is solid, powerful and mysterious. From the interior, the screens offer a dynamic and filtered view of the surrounding landscape.

Constructed of rough concrete and clad in stone from China, the exterior is massive and dense. This sense of solidity is transformed upon entering. Filtered natural light from a linear north facing skylight fills a long, central void that cuts through the building and brings light to the lowest level. Every floor is animated by changing light. A stone stairway cantilevered from a structural spine wall rises through the four floor void. Connected by bridges, stacks on either side of the opening clearly display the books and the building’s organization.

The use of concrete and stone is balanced by various materials adding texture and color to the interiors. American cherry wood desks and reading tables provide places to study. A large slab of Claro walnut, with a natural edge serves as the circulation desk. Bronze plaques, embossed with the Library chop, mark the entry to each room. Walls contain recesses for artwork and vitrines have been designed to hold artifacts. Fifteen tapestries, designed using images from the library’s rare book collection, and cherry wood battens backed by fuchsia fabric help to dampen sound. Black-and-white landscape photographs taken in China by Coleman Fung hang in one of the media rooms. Everywhere one looks, there is something interesting and beautiful to be found.

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