Case Study: UC Berkeley

In Blog, Design Resource, Wood is Good by Morgan Dix

Summary: UC Berkeley built an award winning state of the art LEED gold residence hall called Martinez Commons. DCI furnished it with sustainable solid hardwood and custom designed bedroom and common room furniture.

Case Study: UC Berkeley

Project Name: Martinez Commons

Project Location: Berkeley, CA

Dates: 2013

Project Size: 416 Beds, Single & Double Story Units

Building Type: Undergrad Housing

Project Team: UC Berkeley, Behnisch Architekten, EHDD Architecture, DCI

Product List: Bed, Desk, Rolling Pedestal, Underbed Drawer, Bookcase, 3-Drawer Dresser, Sectional Couch, Lounge Chairs, Side and Coffee Tables

University of California Berkeley

UC Berkeley is one of the most storied and prestigious universities in America. Founded in 1868 as the flagship school in the UC System, it consistently ranks among top-ten universities in the world and frequently earns the number one spot for public universities in the United States.

Berkeley is home to 41,910 students—30,574 Undergraduates and 11,336 Postgraduates—who participate in 350 undergraduate and graduate degree programs with an impressive 17.8 to 1 faculty to student ratio.

Berkeley’s core campus is 178 acres while the entire campus ranges across more than 1,200 acres. Endowed with $4.3b, the school annually invests more than $789 million in R&D, contributing to its status as a top research university.

In terms of research, here’s an astonishing fact about Berkeley scientists and researchers: in conjunction with Berkeley Lab, they discovered 16 chemical elements of the periodic table.

That’s more than any other university in the world.

Berkeley alumni, faculty members and researchers include:

  • 104 Nobel laureates
  • 25 Turing Awards winners
  • 13 Fields Medalists

They have also won:

  • 9 Wolf Prizes
  • 45 MacArthur Fellowships
  • 20 Academy Awards
  • 14 Pulitzer Prizes
  • 207 Olympic medals (117 gold, 51 silver and 39 bronze).

Sustainability at UC Berkeley

Sustainability is a core priority for the UC System and for UC Berkeley in particular. Perhaps one of the most visible expressions of that commitment is Cal’s goal to achieve a carbon neutral campus by 2024.

That means net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, energy use, and fleet vehicle use and translates into an 80% reduction in emissions.

Cal’s Climate Action Partnership (CalCAP)—a collaboration between students, faculty, admin, and staff—has done a great deal to help CAL meet it’s successive carbon reduction targets. CalCAP works “to understand the campus climate impacts through annual greenhouse gas inventories and planning and implementing strategies to reduce it.”

To be honest, this just scratches the surface of CAL’s sustainability commitments. In addition to a campus-wide zero waste goal for 2020, the school has active programs and initiatives in the following focus areas.

  •  Energy
  •  Climate
  •  Water
  •  Built Environment
  •  Waste
  •  Procurement
  •  Food
  •  Transportation
  •  Land Use
  •  Academics & Learning
  •  Research
  •  Metrics

Martinez Commons Berkeley

martinez commons berkeleyIn 2013, Cal opened a new state of the art residence hall in downtown Berkeley. Located across from historic People’s Park and erected on one of the last developable piece of school real estate, this residence hall features a dizzying array of sustainability credentials. It was and is a model of green building practices.

This made DCI an ideal partner on the project, and we furnished the residence hall with sustainably manufactured solid wood furniture.

Before we outline the custom green solution we developed for Martinez Commons, let’s review some of the impressive green attributes of this building.

A Model For Green Buildings

First, Martinez Commons employs a number of energy saving features. It mitigates 8 percent of its energy use by generating its own renewable energy through a roof-mounted solar hot water heating array—80 flat panel solar hot water collectors with 500-gallon storage.

And to offset the cost of that system, the school participated in an innovative 20-year power purchase agreement with a solar power company, Sun Light & Power.

Martinez Commons also reduces energy use by nearly 45 percent through natural ventilation, the use of daylight instead of electric light, and super efficient and appropriately-sized heating equipment.

And in line with Cal’s educational mission, students, staff, and faculty can all monitor the energy use of the building on a website and in the building lobby.

And there’s much more. As SFGate points out in their review of Martinez Commons, the building integrated the arboreal legacy of the site.

The exterior use of teak and dark metal is a nod to Anna Head, while the preservation of the five heritage trees dictated the shape of the building and the layout of the landscape. Trees that were cut down still have a presence, their trunks milled by carpenters who used them for the counters and benches, [security desks] and paneling of common areas.

These and other green features have earned the building multiple awards. It won the Green Building and Research Center’s 2013 Best Practice Awards and The California Higher Education Energy Efficiency Partnership awarded Martinez Commons with the Best Sustainable Design.

Martinez Commons also received the 2015 Merit Award for design and sustainability from the architectural association AIA East Bay. And of course, the building won LEED Gold certification.

The Solution

martinez commons berkeley lounge furnitureNaturally, we were honored to work on a project of this calibre. UC Berkeley initially contacted us to provide them with a full bedroom set that featured a clean modern design.

And because this was such a high profile project with exceptional standards, the UC team gave a lot of thought and consideration to every detail.

In the end, we customized all the furniture to reflect the values and design of the building. And it’s important to note that these units were specifically designed as a departure from standard dormitory “style” to inspire a more sophisticated apartment esthetic.

Here’s what that meant.

First, we crafted most of the furniture with sustainable FSC-controlled—eastern grown maple. Nearly all of it was made from solid hardwood. The bedroom set included a bed, three storage pieces, a desk, and a mobile pedestal.

Modern Non-bunking Beds

martinez commons berkeley solid wood bedroom furniture

For the bedroom, we custom designed a non-bunkable platform bed which features exposed plywood edges with very clean lines and a maple veneer.

Choosing non-bunking beds was important to preserve the integrity of the space and honor the intention to make it feel like an apartment instead of a dorm room.

Custom Storage Trio

We also customized an underbed drawer and paired it with a separate bookcase. Students can either place the bookcase on its side or fit under the bed next to the drawer.

The third piece in this storage trio was a modern three-drawer chest floating on elevated metal feet.

Desk & Pedestal

Using a mix of metal and wood, we designed an ergonomic desk that was shorter than standard desks in order to accommodate the use of laptops.

To reduce bulk under the desk, we crafted extra wide mobile pedestals. We also added an extra six inches to the width of the desk to make more space for the pedestals.

Blending function, extreme durability and style, the pedestals feature industrial grade casters.

Common Room Furniture

At a certain point in our creative process, the Cal Team asked us to submit options for the common area seating and tables.

They had an existing inspiration for their designs, so we built on that and developed our own version. We built L-shaped couches with coffee and end tables.

The upholstered sectional couches and lounge chairs featured rolled maple arms made from bent plywood.

We designed them with exposed plywood to maintain the overall theme and dovetail with the bedroom design.

The general idea was this. Let’s not cover up what this is…let’s expose it. Why? Because wood is beautiful.

(Photos via Flickr CC: Peter Alfred HessA GudeJohn MorganSharat Ganapati)