UC Berkeley Lower Sproul Plaza

Berkeley, California

The revitalization of this mid-century complex is a student-based initiative that reinvigorates the site into a common gathering space for the entire campus, rooted in sustainable practices.

Lower Sproul Plaza and the surrounding mid-century modern student center complex, on the south edge of the campus of the University of California, Berkeley was built in 1959. The open space, modeled on the Piazza San Marco in Venice, was designed by the celebrated landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. Having served beyond its lifespan, the plaza and buildings were identified as in need of revitalization to provide students with a high quality campus center for student life. New construction and adaptive reuse are combined to celebrate and revitalize this historic complex that includes Lower Sproul Plaza, Alumni Quad, portions of Upper Sproul Plaza and the Cesar Chavez Student Center.

The project is designed to reinforce the role of this central campus space as the cultural heart of student activity. Flexible outdoor spaces compliment uses inside the surrounding buildings as well as events, performances, dining, gathering. Building upgrades include the replacement of the student government building and renovations and expansion of the MLK Jr. Student Union with dining, social, and community spaces. The new Alumni Quad is created from a fire lane and service area recast as a memorial garden.

Sustainability was a key priority for the students. The design team worked closely on an advanced stormwater treatment and grey water reuse program to ensure that site and building infrastructure are highly integrated. A portion of the site watershed’s rainwater is collected for irrigation and toilet flushing. A raingarden captures and filters additional stormwater runoff which is returned to nearby Strawberry Creek. All improvements are designed to respect existing dense tree groves and the mid-century modern character of the building complex. CMG was also responsible for solving the site’s challenging topography, and improving accessibility; integrated stairs and ramps are incorporated into the overall planting strategy to traverse a grade change of 12 feet on both the east and west sides of the plaza. A fundamental goal of the project is to provide universal access to all of the campus open space of the Lower Sproul Redevelopment Project.

The revitalization of the Lower Sproul Plaza and Student Community Center is a unique and important project for CMG in many ways: highly integrated building and landscape stormwater management, technical on-structure design incorporating new and existing plaza deck and building structures, and renovation and revitalization of the mid-century complex that is the historic host of Berkeley’s civil rights and free speech movements.