The self stated mission of the opening exhibit, Architecture of Life at the BAMPFA is to “explore(s) the ways that architecture—as concept, metaphor, and practice—illuminates various aspects of life experience.” This is an exploration that the architects who designed the building understood well.-Isa Ansari
The University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) was initially created 40 years ago with a mission to inspire a space for thoughtful conversations and valuable innovations, while also paying respects to the cultural history of art. It had sort of a tumultuous infancy, with exhibitions being shown all over the UC Berkeley campus. The necessity for its own building arose shortly after UC Berkeley was given a large sum of money and artwork by Abstract Expressionist Hans Hoffman as a thank you for the education he received at the university. The first building was built in 1970 but was declared seismically unsafe in 2014, and a new building had to be designed. Architects Diller, Scofidio, and Renfro were chosen for the job. Today, a brand new building stands, swooping and silver on the corner of Shattuck and Oxford in Berkeley.
The self stated mission of the opening exhibit, Architecture of Life at the BAMPFA is to “explore(s) the ways that architecture—as concept, metaphor, and practice—illuminates various aspects of life experience.” This is an exploration that the architects who designed the building understood well. The team of three had previously worked together on designing the New York Highline Skywalk, which includes a sitting area where you can sit and watch traffic as if it were a movie. This idea that simply framing a thing makes it art is apparent in the architecture of the new building, and in the work showed in the exhibition itself.
Tomas Sacareno’s hybrid semi-social musical instrument is part of the Architecture of Life exhibit and it’s essentially a series of four boxes filled with different spider webs hanging in a dark room, lit from below. It’s quite the sight to behold, and I found myself sitting in the room for a very long time. However, what struck me instantly is how often we brush off spider webs in our daily lives like they’re nothing but a nuisance, but when they’re framed as art we gawk and marvel at their beauty. This illustrated the power of architecture, showing that if we structure things a certain way we can shed light on and appreciate aspects of life that we often ignore. There is a spot inside the building itself where you can see people sitting and eating in the cafe through a triangular frame created by the walls. This same triangle shape is echoed on the outside of the building, and people can be seen standing behind the glass from the street. Once again, architecture is being used as a tool for transformation from the ordinary to something we feel is worth noting.
After leaving the Berkeley Art Museum, the world around me seemed different. Despite the rain on that day, I felt like I was seeing things more brightly than before. I was reminded of the extraordinary nature of all things, including my ability to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch those things, and to think and wonder and be inspired by them. I so often forget to look at the light on the wall outside my home as I would if it were a photograph of the exact same image in an esteemed art museum by a well regarded photographer. The same goes for my complete disregard at spiderwebs I pass on the street, or disgust at the ones that I come in contact with. So much, if not all, about our perception of life is informed by the perspective that we view life from. Through architecture, we can build our own and others perspectives in ways that lead to honoring the mundane as the extraordinary.