BERKELEY -- Making a 360-degree turn or peering through a jagged hole in the vast, scooped-out interior of the former UC Berkeley printing plant, it's hard to see the future home of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
Fortunately, there are artists and visionaries whose job it is to see the dream, then bring it to life.
A large contingent of just such folks gathered at the site at Center and Oxford streets April 30 to pat themselves on the back, forge new art-centric alliances, and hear the story behind the gleam in BAM/PFA director Lawrence Rinder's eye now materializing.
After thanking trustees -- some of whom have worked on the project for a dozen years -- and the Cal staff, some of whom have lost their parking spaces, Rinder made some predictions.
"We will be a meeting place, a point where art in the Bay Area comes together," he said.
The project, in many ways, is already coming together.
"This is the first project where we teamed up with a design firm," said David Vogel, associate principal at EHDD, the project's architect. EHDD has a well-known presence in the Bay Area that includes San Francisco's recently completed Exploratorium.
Zoe Small, an associate at architecture firm Diller Scofio + Renfro, extended the partnership chain, saying, "Working with the many user groups has been an evolution: Everybody had an impact."
And the project's collaborative fusion gained added heat from its two primary clients, the university and the public. Establishing the institution's physical presence in downtown is a deliberate, strategic effort to ramp up BAM/PFA's connection to both communities.
In comments before his formal presentation, Rinder described the approach as "dualing," not "dueling."
"So much of what we do is organized around the students, but the public hasn't been aware of us. Now, we'll have dual presence," he said.
Some of that presence will come from the future building's signature sculptural element: an aggressively designed cafe that thrusts out over Center Street.
Visitors will have a view of Berkeley's bustling downtown, and pedestrians not already turning their heads to take in the building's all-glass facade can't miss the overhanging projection.
Inside, Vogel said flexibility would make the new facility a "world-class institution."
Special glass and sophisticated blind systems will control natural light coming from the three north-facing, windowed-walls. A large, airy communal space (depicted in architectural renderings with a ballerina high-kicking amid museum visitors) will allow customized use by dance, theater, music and other performing groups.
At about 82,000 square feet, the new building will actually be smaller than the 100,000-square-foot current facility, but more efficiently used square footage will increase the display area, officials said.
Rinder described a number of the building's features as improvements on the museum's current Bancroft Way location. That building, a seismically unsound structure whose retrofitting will virtually eliminate its viability as a visual arts forum, will be retrofitted, then assigned other university-related purposes.
Rinder's list heralded the new space's single entrance, the "purpose-built" 225-seat Barbara Osher Theater (finally uniting the BAM and PFA under one cantilevered roof); art-making and entrance fee-free spaces; an Addison Street-facing LED screen for projecting films and media outside; and the project's motto: "excellence plus edge equals energy."
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates weighed in, saying, "I'm in my 11th year (as mayor): Good things take forever. They tell me -- and they haven't been wrong yet -- BAM/PFA brings in 100,000 people a year, and this will double the number of people."
Berkeley Repertory Theatre Managing Director Susan Medak welcomed the downtown "newcomers" on behalf of the city's business merchants and arts community.
"Arts organizations are like grapes," she said. "They grow best in bunches."
With $95 million of the $100 million budget already committed, Rinder said the public capital campaign will be rolling out in the coming months.
The projected construction completion date is summer 2015, with the new BAM/PFA opening to the public in early 2016.
"Come 2016, don't make any plans," Rinder said. "We'll see you here."