Starchitecture Wars

Everyone in San Francisco is waiting, fingers tapping, for SFMOMA to reopen in May, bigger and better than ever, thanks to a high-profile expansion by the even higher profile Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta. Meanwhile, another stalwart of the Northern California arts scene has been reinvented, just the other side of the Bay Bridge, and also by a big-name firm. The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive’s new home, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro—just dusting their collective hands off after the successful debut of the Broad Museum, in downtown L.A.—occupies, and transforms, what had been the old university press. (Fun historical fact: the original United Nations charter was printed here in 1945, and then hustled back across the bay for the delegates to sign.)

The museum’s swooping stainless-steel spine, which seems to drape itself over the original building, is striking, for sure, as is the opening exhibition, “Architecture of Life,” which examines architecture’s influence on, well, life over the past two millennia. But maybe the coolest thing about this museum is the part that’s not a museum at all, but the first and only cinema built on the Berkeley campus. This year, the Osher Theater will have 450 screenings, which sounds like a lot until you remember that the Pacific Film Archive has a library of 17,500 films. A ticket to a screening gets you into the galleries too, so arrive early so you can devote some time to what’s hanging on the walls. Oh, and get a little something at the museum’s lounge, Swig’s, before the movie, because there’s no concession stand in the theater. Films are serious business, after all.

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BAMPFA DSR 16-01 5513 copyPhotos Courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, EHDD, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

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