How Berkeley’s housing boom will transform the city’s character

Visit central Berkeley and there are sights you expect to see: the Campanile rising serenely from the heart of campus. Students on the sidewalks, even after commencement. Aging men and women dressed as if it’s still 1974.

And then there’s the unexpected — like a downtown housing boom that shows no sign of dying down.

At least 10 apartment buildings ranging in height from five to 14 stories are under construction in downtown Berkeley, most of them within a block of the district’s spine, Shattuck Avenue. An equal number are approved or under review, including a proposed 25-story housing tower that would be only 60 feet shorter than the Campanile — the city’s tallest building.

Architecturally, let’s be honest: None of them will make people forget Julia Morgan or Bernard Maybeck, whose atmospheric buildings of shingled wood and thick masonry enriched the local landscape a century ago. But as downtown’s character is transformed, its two newest apartment buildings are worth checking out for another all-important reason — to gauge whether the newcomers connect with their surroundings in meaningful ways, particularly where the structure meets the ground.

“The interface between a building and the sidewalk,” in the words of Berkeley architect and urban designer Dan Parolek. Or, as he also puts it, “the building from the knees down.”

The latest addition is Identity Logan Park, which fills eight stories with 135 student apartments at the corner of Shattuck and Durant avenues, replacing half of a now-demolished strip mall (the rest of the site will hold the second phase). The other, Aquatic Shattuck, opened last summer several blocks to the south at Carleton Street.

The latter is a much better fit, and not because it’s two stories smaller.

Identity Logan Park will line a block of Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley with eight stories of new housing. The first phase (back) opened recently, and the second phase is under construction.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

The difference starts on the ground, where the first floor notches back beneath each broad bay, a saw-tooth response to Shattuck’s angled path that allows space for small patches of landscaping between the sidewalk and the building. Pulling back the ground floor from the property line also means the upper floors can extend over the sidewalk by as much as 3 feet.

All this sounds subtle, and it is, but the moves create an almost domestic tone for pedestrians along Shattuck. The building has a neighborly feel, no easy task at this scale, helped by trees that buffer the sidewalk from the street.

The floors above offer a contemporary take on Berkeley’s traditional stucco apartment buildings: The Aquatic lines up along Shattuck in four orderly bays above the strong recessed base, a vertical rhythm emphasized by black metal that frames the stacks of windows and extends out several inches from the muted tan facade.

The design by Trachtenberg Architects for developer Read Investments is subdued, no question. It also resembles five similar apartment buildings the team erected near the popular Fourth Street retail strip. En masse, things can get monotonous; here, next to a fire station built of concrete blocks, it’s a sophisticated upgrade to the larger roadside scene.

How you make a squat five-story building seem more vertical? At Aquatic Shattuck in Berkeley, Trachtenberg Architects used windows framed in black metal that pop out from bays covered in tan stucco.

How you make a squat five-story building seem more vertical? At Aquatic Shattuck in Berkeley, Trachtenberg Architects used windows framed in black metal that pop out from bays covered in tan stucco.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Identity Logan Park, by contrast, feels arbitrary and detached.


https://www.sfchronicle.com/eastbay/article/Berkeley-housing-17203799.php

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