When viewing Berkeley architecture—the downtown, the university, and hillside houses—we are struck both by the diversity and high quality of many buildings, and by the inventiveness of the details, use of materials, and floor plans evident in them. Many visiting this website are familiar with the work of Berkeley’s best known architects. Our aim in this section is to broaden the overview by including lesser known architects along with those whose names are better known. We hope that readers with knowledge of local architecture, some of whom may even enjoy living in buildings designed by talented Berkeley architects who are no longer living, will submit texts to help fill out our overview.
Many prominent Berkeley landmarks are rooted in the tradition of neo-classicism embodied in the style taught at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. This influence can be seen in the work of Bernard Maybeck, John Galen Howard, Walter Ratcliff, John Hudson Thomas, and lesser known architects like Ernest Coxhead, Henry Gutterson, and James Plachek. Since 1950, the names and works of Mid-Century modernist architects have emerged: Warren Callister and his friend of 70 years, Jack Hillmer, Joseph Esherick, John Funk , Roger Lee, Charles Moore, Donald Olsen, and William Wurster to name a few.
Four buildings in Berkeley demonstrate elements of Beaux-Arts style: Bernard Maybeck’s First Church of Christ, Scientist, John Bakewell, Jr. and Arthur Brown Jr.’s City Hall, Oscar Wenderoth’s Berkeley Main Post Office, and John Galen Howard’s Main Library on the UC campus. These are among the buildings that formed the background for developments in Berkeley’s architecture in the later 20th century.
Perhaps the most distinctive architectural development in Berkeley and the Bay Area in general is the “Bay Area Style,” which was, in part, a reaction to the formalism of Neo-classicism. Lewis Mumford called this development “a free yet unobtrusive expression of the terrain, the climate, and the way of life of the coast.” The style was an un-self-conscious romantic architecture, partly derived from the Craftsman and Shingle Style traditions developed in England and the eastern United States—small-scaled, high-pitched, shingled gabled roofs with large overhangs casting deep shadows, exteriors sheathed in redwood, large open porches (some for sleeping), woodsy, anti-urban, and related to the terrain and landscape of their sites in ways that were distinctly western. The natural materials, often left unfinished, that were used to build these structures directly related to the outdoors. Most of the numerous single family dwellings designed by Julia Morgan in Berkeley in the early 20th century provide elegant examples of Bay Area Style.
Many others have contributed to the architectural ambiance of Berkeley. Designer builders and architects, many of whose names are unknown, have crafted charming neighborhoods detailed with Italianate, Victorian, Queen Anne, and Carpenter Gothic styles. Julia Morgan’s unique Berkeley City Club is a medieval fantasy executed in reinforced concrete. There are also isolated historical areas of period revival styles such as Shattuck Square in the downtown that were related to transportation systems that connected Berkeley to other East Bay cities and to San Francisco. We leave it you who visit this website to volunteer contributions that will add to our roster of buildings which have collectively created our extraordinary Berkeley landscape.
James Samuels, Architecture Editor
Berkeley Architecture: Architects
Berkeley Architecture: Buildings