Durant Hall, a landmark building on the University of California, Berkeley campus is celebrating its centennial in a new role—as administrative offices for the College of Letters and Sciences. San Francisco-based Mark Cavagnero Associates performed the tricky feat of restoring and repurposing this Beaux Arts gem, which was designed by John Galen Howard as the law school, and later converted into a library.
The classical facades were protected, so making the building ADA-accessible while leaving the stepped entries undisturbed posed a major challenge. Cavagnero and project architect Paul Davison came up with a clever solution: The sloping ground to the west is excavated to reveal the full height of the building’s basement, a steel-framed door is inserted where a window opening existed, and a new entry plaza merges with pedestrian walkways. An elevator is installed near the center of the building to link the basement to the two main floors and attic story without penetrating the tiled roof.
“I cut my teeth restoring and extending the Legion of Honor Building in Golden Gate Park,” recalls Cavagnero, “and to prepare for this project I studied the English classical buildings that inspired Howard. It was a challenge to make the necessary changes while preserving the original character and decorative details.” The team aimed to make best use of the basement, installing angled drywall to diffuse natural light more evenly, and creating a cool modern interior with frosted glass partitions that would accommodate much of the program. The basement transformation took pressure off the upper floors, allowing the second-floor skylit volume to be left open as a reception/event space. Here, frosted glass encloses faculty offices, allowing the rooms to be private while daylight reaches into the reception/event space.
Though Durant Hall was structurally sound, Cavagnero had to strip out a warren of partitions, cover the floor with rubber, and refurbish the joinery, marble steps, and bronze fittings. Existing oak was delicately removed in order to widen door openings in the first-floor corridor and make them ADA-compliant, and the restrooms were also remodeled. Vintage light fixtures that Howard himself designed were repaired, fitted with new energy-efficient lighting, and installed out of sight behind the coved ceiling. Frosted glass conceals new ductwork, and crisp modern furnishings from Steelcase, Coalesse, and Nienkämper complement both the old and new interiors.
Additions to a historic building should be clearly distinguished from the original building, yet be compatible. Cavagnero resolved this dilemma on the exterior by devising a mix of white cement and buff sand for a concrete that would closely match the tone of Howard’s white Sierra granite, while remaining distinct. This material clads the exposed foundation wall, and frames a plaza of basketweave brick, which is a common feature of the campus. For the interior, the architects produced detailed drawings and instructed the subcontractors to follow them exactly. The results are exemplary and, as a bonus, the building has secured a LEED Silver certification for its energy efficiency and use of appropriate materials—a first for adaptive reuse on the campus.