Close Mobile Menu

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Gets Set to Open in New Digs

January 15, 2016
by Krissy Eliot

The new UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, now in the final stages of construction, exists in the heart of downtown as the large shell of a structure—its insides not yet filled with the art and art fanciers who will flood its halls when it opens to the public on January 31.

Though the new museum is 20 percent smaller than the old Mario Ciampi–designed concrete one, the building comes out to 83,000 square feet and features 25,000 square feet of gallery space.

Its exterior is an amalgamation of stainless steel, milky white walls, and glass—with wide windows along Center Street that glow with warm light to illuminate the art after sunset. The building is striking, yet inoffensive—an effect that architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro (who worked on such projects as the High Line elevated park in New York City and The Broad Museum in Los Angeles) successfully implemented throughout the interior. “Design takes a back seat to the presentation of art and film,” BAMPFA director Lawrence Rinder said of the building’s conception.

Upon entering, you’re immediately welcomed into a central hallway where you can see the large exhibition galleries with massive movable walls, the bookstore, and a three-story multi-purpose space.

When walking through the barren galleries during the building’s construction earlier this year, it was easy to imagine the myriad of possibilities for the presentation of Architecture of Life, the inaugural exhibition that will adorn the space with 250 works of art, scientific illustrations, and architectural drawings. The exhibit is meant to explore the ways that architecture can illuminate aspects of the psyche and structure imagination and reality. Featured artists in the exhibition will include Noriko Ambe, Ruth Sawa, George Ault, and many more.

The lower level holds a series of windowless galleries lit by soft light from above, and is structured so that the eye is drawn to every corner to encourage guests to explore further. The two new film theaters block out all sound when you’re inside, allowing for a fully enveloping media experience. There is also a place down front in one of the theaters for live musicians to accompany the showing of classic silent films.

BAMPFA’s aim is to encourage the public to engage with the art and make it their own.

The new Film and Library Study Center will house 10,000 books, 10,500 posters, 2,500 audio tapes, 150 journal titles, and 50,000 film stills. And the Art Lab is open to people of all ages so they can draw, craft collages, and make books and prints at will; workshops will be offered with guest artists during scheduled hours. There are also new 10-foot-wide touch monitors in the building to host a database of BAMPFA media—allowing visitors to zoom in and see tiny details of artwork that they couldn’t otherwise.

If you travel up to the top level, you’ll find Babette’s, a café that’s become much loved in Berkeley since opening at the museum’s old location in 2012. Although the new café is small and the sun shining through its many windows makes it toasty in the late afternoon, the view of Center Street is striking and could be great paired with a midday espresso.

Beginning four days before the public opening, events include a gala, afterparty, Berkeley student preview, BAMPFA member event, and a curator’s toast. For more information on tickets and attendance, check out

Regular programming gets underway February 3.


Portal Grand Opening Gala & House Afterparty: Thursday, January 28

The Grand Opening Gala, titled Portal, will provide guests the opportunity to see the new Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed building as well as Architecture of Life, the inaugural exhibition, and features a dinner menu created by Alice Waters. Individual tickets are $1,000 and gala tables start at $10,000, and both include entry to the afterparty. Guests who attend only the afterparty (tickets cost $100) can explore BAMPFA accompanied by the thump of new and old house music.

UC Berkeley Student Preview: Friday, January 29

An event hosted by BAMPFA Student Committee, the party allows Cal students to be among the first to check out the new building.

Member Preview: Saturday, January 30, 10AM–5PM

This is a members-only event for BAMPFA supporters, showing off the new building and inaugural exhibition. Timed tickets required.

Curator’s Circle Toast: Saturday, January 30, 7–10PM

The evening will be a thank you for Curator’s Circle members and campaign donors, and it will allow them to share a toast in celebration of BAMPFA.

Community Day: Sunday, January 31, 11AM–11PM

This marks the culmination of the grand opening week, where the public can get a first look at Architecture of Life, the inaugural exhibition, and watch films in BAMPFA’s first purpose-built cinema. There will be hands-on art-making, music, and other activities programmed by artist David Wilson. Admission is free. Timed tickets recommended to ensure entry.

Photos by Iwan Baan; courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, EHDD, and BAMPFA

Share this article