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Renovated Naval Architecture Building and new Blum Center buildingThe project, seen in this artist's rendering, includes renovations to the Naval Architecture Building (right), a new wing near that structure (left), and plazas and raised connectors to link the complex with other buildings on campus.

Plans to restore historic campus building and provide new Blum Center home move forward

| 09 February 2009

Plans to renovate, expand and seismically upgrade a simple but historically significant, wood-shingled building on the UC Berkeley campus took a major step forward last week, following a University of California Board of Regents review of the design plans and environmental documents on Thursday, Feb. 5. The building will create a home for the Richard C. Blum Center for Developing Economies and house College of Engineering faculty. It will also provide work space for students.

The Blum Center is a multi-disciplinary initiative established to combat poverty that has partnerships with two other UC campuses – Davis and San Francisco. Launched in 2006 through a gift from San Francisco financier, philanthropist and UC Regent Richard Blum, the Blum Center supports faculty research aimed at creating lasting change for the poor around the world. Blum Center innovation teams are working to deliver safe water and sanitation solutions in eight countries; new mobile technologies, infrastructures, and services in many different locations in Africa and Asia; and energy efficient technologies, such as the Berkeley Darfur Stove – a safer, more fuel-efficient cookstove – in developing countries around the world.

While UC Berkeley faculty are developing and adapting cutting-edge technologies and service and social entrepreneurship models to address real-world problems, they are also educating the next generation of leaders in the fight against global poverty. Over 1,000 students have participated in Blum Center-sponsored classes, symposia, and applied research initiatives. The Blum Center's minor in Global Poverty and Practice, one of the most popular minors on campus, draws students from 30 majors and gives them the knowledge and experiences necessary to take action against poverty – by combining coursework in the classroom with experience working directly in developing countries. To date, students have worked in 25 countries around the globe.

The tremendous growth of the Blum Center over the last two years necessitated the creation of a home for the center. Richard Blum generously offered to finance the restoration of the Naval Architecture Building and the construction of a new wing to provide that home.

The original Naval Architecture Building, built in 1914 and designed by John Galen Howard, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has housed many academic units over the decades, including architecture programs, but currently is not in use by faculty or students.

The new project will respectfully restore the historic building and more than double its square footage (13,000 gross square feet will be added to the 10,918 gross square feet of space in the existing building), while also revitalizing it to meet modern building codes and life safety codes.

A new wing will be constructed 16 feet away from the original structure to respect its historic integrity. A second-level bridge, first-level terrace and ground floor connector under the terrace will link the historic building to its new wing. A plaza area will connect the entire project to nearby engineering buildings. Most of the ground floor will be devoted to a student work space area, designed to foster student collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

The $16 million project is being developed by a private, non-profit organization – the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley Foundation, also known as the Blum Center Foundation. The foundation was created and is funded by Richard Blum.

The board conditionally approved the project after its Committee on Grounds and Buildings reviewed design plans (PDF) earlier this week for the Naval Architecture Building on the UC Berkeley campus and considered a report on environmental consequences of the project. Full and final approval of the project is expected after a pending agreement between the donor funding the project and the University of California is reviewed by designated Regents. The agreement is expected to be completed within a few weeks.

Construction is expected to begin after the pending agreement between the donor and the University of California is completed. According to the project timeline, construction is expected to begin this semester, with project completion expected to take 16 months.

Under a short-term ground lease agreement between the Blum Center Foundation and the University of California, the foundation will lease the existing Naval Architecture Building and immediate site from UC and complete the improvements under its management and at its expense. After the project is completed, the improvements would be gifted to the campus by the Blum Center Foundation.

The San Francisco-based firm of Gensler Architects is designing the building. At the request of UC Berkeley, the project design team also includes Knapp Architects of San Francisco, which specializes in historic preservation. The campus architect will perform project oversight. The building will be designed, built and inspected in accordance with all campus and state building code requirements.

Richard Blum is the founder and chairman of San Francisco-based Blum Capital Partners. In addition to launching the Blum Center, the financier has also founded the American Himalayan Foundation and the Global Economy and Development Center at the Brookings Institution. He has served on the board of trustees for the Atlanta-based Carter Center for many years.

The College of Engineering's Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research which will also occupy space in the building, conducts teaching and research related to modeling and analyzing business operations to improve efficiency, productivity and product quality. By moving into the renovated and expanded building, the department's faculty and students will be able to work closely with Blum Center colleagues on manufacturing and marketing technologies that address global poverty.