New Blum Center headquarters opens on north side
With campus and national dignitaries on hand and a sunny Homecoming Friday as a backdrop, the doors of Richard C. Blum Hall officially opened on Friday, October 8. It was a big occasion to celebrate what one project architect called a “little jewel box” of a building, small in scale but grand in its historic origins and its lofty goals.
Blum Hall now combines a lovingly restored Naval Architecture Building with an all-new wing in neo-Craftsman style to provide 22,000 square feet of space. The program it will house also bears the name of Richard C. Blum, Haas alumnus, UC Regent and global philanthropist who championed the center to mobilize Berkeley students and faculty against global poverty. Blum financed the program and led the financing effort for much of the $18 million building project.
“With all due apologies to Dr. King,” Blum said in his remarks, “I had a dream of a place that could inspire a generation of young people who care about doing something about the world’s inequalities. We’ve achieved more than I ever could have imagined, at the only place I could have ever wanted it to be: Berkeley.” Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Engineering Dean Shankar Sastry, who is Blum Center faculty director, also spoke.
Blum’s remarks were disrupted by demonstrators protesting UC Regents–imposed budget cuts to staff pay and benefits. Visibly irritated but undeterred, Blum shouted over the protests, joking that he would send out copies of his remarks later. Tight security prevented access through the area for some guests and students.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is married to Blum, introduced the keynote speaker, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. A distinguished fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and Blum Center trustee, Shultz congratulated the center, calling it a “unique model” that emphasizes output rather than input, by virtue of its engineering component.
Some Blum Center faculty/student projects
- The ARUBA project uses waste ash from coal-fired power plants to remove deadly arsenic from Bangladeshi groundwater.
- The fuel-efficient Berkeley Darfur stove reduces the time women in Sudanese refugee camps risk exposure to violence in searching for wood.
- The CellScope affordably combines a high-magnification microscope with a cell phone to facilitate remote diagnosis of disease.
“Engineers are can-do people,” Shultz said. “They like to get their hands on things and get them to work.” The program unites multiple disciplines, including engineering, business, energy and resources, public health, law and environmental design, as well as campuses at UC Davis and UCSF.
The Blum Center opened in 2007 and now offers a rotating portfolio of classes designed to give students practical skills to target poverty in the world’s poorest regions and populations. Since then, more than 4,000 students, mostly undergraduates, have taken courses; nearly 300 have traveled to 52 countries to do fieldwork and nearly 100 have received fellowships. The Blum Center’s program in Global Poverty and Practice, with 450 enrollees, is the largest and fastest-growing undergraduate academic minor on campus.
In addition to the minor, the center also supports faculty/student research teams working to adapt new technologies to solve real-world problems. Interdisciplinary teams are now working to deliver safe water and sanitation systems in eight countries, implement new mobile technologies and services throughout Africa and Asia as well as energy-efficient technologies around the world.
To build a bridge
Also in attendance at the event were representatives of Gensler, the architectural firm that handled the renovation and the new addition; many of them said they were inspired by the Blum Center’s mission.
“The best part about this project was doing something as inspirational as what the Blum Center is about,” said John Duvivier, principal in charge of design. “You always want to build a project that enables that. This has been a huge honor.”
Even though small in scale, the project posed challenges. A vintage Craftsman brown shingle built in 1914–18 by John Galen Howard, UC Berkeley’s first campus architect, old Naval Architecture is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its original footprint, wood finishes and other architectural details had to be preserved and thus provided inspiration for the new wing. Gensler incorporated natural materials like western red cedar and reclaimed teak as well as sustainable features like skylights, daylight sensors and energy-saving landscaping.
Also driving the design was the goal of creating a central hub for engineering and for interdisciplinary collaboration. The old and new buildings are connected by a first-level terrace and a second-level bridge, and both are connected to Sutardja Dai Hall, home of CITRIS, by a concrete plaza. Such connections, according to Ashok Gadgil, professor of civil and environmental engineering and Blum Center faculty affiliate, form the underlying ethos of the program.
“The idea is interaction,” Gadgil said. “The Blum Center connects world-class, cutting-edge research in the engineering sciences to the needs of the bottom two billion people. It creates this enormous bridge between us, a bridge of humanity, because humanity is what is common between all of us on the planet.”
Blum Hall will also house the Coleman Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership, another new program that will offer a professional master’s degree beginning next fall. Both programs will take advantage of dedicated student work space on the ground floor, specifically designed to foster student collaboration and exchange of ideas.