A building’s legacy: 95 years of innovation



The new Hearst Memorial Mining Building was formally dedicated on Aug. 23, 1907.
Photo courtesy of University Archives, UC Berkeley

19 September 2002 | The name Hearst is well-known in California, and not only for its 20th-century attachment to newspapers, streets, and buildings (including a certain castle). The name was prominent in 19th-century California politics as well, with mining pioneer George Hearst having been a California state legislator (1865-66) and U.S. senator (1886-91). George was described as a self-made man of strong ideals and hearty character, one who — like so many of his contemporaries — valued progress and industry as enduring symbols of the new century.

In that vein, the Hearst Memorial Mining Building was designed to be the finest facility for mining education in the world. Noted turn-of-the-century mining professor Samuel Christy and Berkeley’s long-time campus architect, John Galen Howard, had traveled the world over to inspect other mining schools and glean ideas for the building’s design. Upon completion, at an estimated cost of $1 million in 1907 dollars, it became home to Berkeley’s College of Mining.

A Friday-afternoon dedication ceremony on the steps of the new building on Aug. 23, 1907, included remarks by then-UC President Benjamin Ide Wheeler, John Galen Howard, College of Mining Dean Christy, prominent mining engineer T.A. Rickard, and newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, son of George and Phoebe Hearst. Addressing an audience of men in coattails and hats, and women in full-length dresses and gloves, Rickard expressed his hope that the new Hearst Mining Building — the first academic building to be built under Berkeley’s architectural master plan for all campus buildings built after the turn of the century — would become a preeminent leader in developing California’s economy. “May this building,” he intoned, “be consecrated to the service of efficient citizenship and to the industrial development of the Pacific coast, of America, of the world. May this School of Mines have no enemy save the ignorant, and for a friend the people of California.”

The new building was to be devoted exclusively to mining and metallurgy research and instruction, with interior spaces to accommodate laboratory experiments. It reflected the principles of the Beaux-Arts tradition of architecture, and was the cornerstone of Howard’s master plan for the campus.

The architect created laboratories and classrooms that radiated off the entrance gallery, establishing a clear hierarchy for organizing the building’s interior spaces. In addition to adding natural light and ventilation, that design upheld the functionality of the rooms. Lofty vertical space was often used for experimentation in metallurgy and displays of mining technology. A four-story central court, for example, at one point housed a three-story crushing tower to demonstrate mining techniques of the day, as well as many furnaces.

As Berkeley’s reputation in engineering grew, and engineering students began to swell the ranks of undergraduate enrollments, new construction projects modified the building. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the building’s central court, once a marvel of open-air design, was filled in with much-needed classrooms and laboratory space.

The building was fashioned for structural integrity, if not for rapidly growing numbers of students. It survived two earthquakes — in 1906 and 1989 — before it finally closed four years ago for seismic renovation, architectural restoration, and modernization.

For nine-and-a-half decades, then, the Hearst Memorial Mining Building has been the site of engineering breakthroughs, such as the development of stronger, less corrosive steels, versatile ceramics, new generations of electronic and biological materials, and environmentally sound practices for tapping the Earth’s resources. After this weekend’s rededication, it will also house a large part of the recently established Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), a research program to advance information technologies that address pressing problems in energy conservation, transportation, education, health care, and disaster preparedness.

Yet, while the building has become a place for 21st-century teaching and research in science and engineering, it still retains its 19th-century aesthetic, combining strength with beauty and form with function.


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