December 11, 2013

Six-Story Moorish Fortress Designed For Blighted Berkeley Lot

2501%20Haste%20Site.jpg

With the owner of the long vacant lot at the corner of Haste and Telegraph in Berkeley having settled a lawsuit with the City in October, agreeing to move forward with plans to develop the lot within 45 days or risk forfeiture of the land, Ken Sarachan is moving forward with plans to build a six-story Moorish fortress on the site adjacent to Rasputin Records which Sarachan also owns.

The proposed "El Jardin" development at 2501 Haste (click image above to enlarge) includes the demolition of the retail building at 2433 Telegraph and the construction of 79 dwelling units over 30,356 square feet of commercial space with the 69-foot high building rising over, and "carved" out of, a base of sculpted concrete rock:

2501%20Haste%20Rendering.jpg

2501%20Haste%20Rendering%202.jpg

On the agenda for Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board tomorrow, a public hearing on the project with a chance to provide comments, of which we expect there to be a few.

Earlier this year, Berkeley's formal Design Review Committee deemed the concept "fun" but wondered how the building works with Telegraph and noted that the development is "too large for the neighborhood," recommending that its height be reduced by one floor.

First Published: December 11, 2013 10:15 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Looks like something Gaudi would have designed….

Posted by: mdg at December 11, 2013 10:43 AM

Love it. Harkens back to an older style of construction, and kind of ties in with some of the Spanish colonial / Mission transitional architecture in the area.

Posted by: Sierrajeff at December 11, 2013 10:44 AM

mdg, that's an undeserved insult to Gaudi.

Posted by: apropos at December 11, 2013 10:49 AM

that is not the typical bland SF architecture with bay windows stuck on!

Go for it. ha ha ha

Posted by: contrarian at December 11, 2013 10:56 AM

Oh yes. Love it. We really need more wacky stuff like this. Even if it looks crappy it adds visual interest.

Posted by: anon at December 11, 2013 10:57 AM

It is fun. Hope he has a good contractor and good foreman to pull off the job.

Posted by: noe mom at December 11, 2013 11:00 AM

How many years has this lot sat vacant and blighted? Twenty? More?

In SF I'm sure the blight preservation crew would be hard at work protecting this as a sacred historic resource. Let's see how it plays out in Berkeley.

[Editor's Note: Designed a landmark in 1987, a fire damaged the former Berkeley Inn on the site in 1990 and the building was subsequently demolished.]

Posted by: zzzzzz at December 11, 2013 11:01 AM

Cool, I love it when someone is willing to do something different.

Posted by: Rillion at December 11, 2013 11:01 AM

Given the history and multi-decade disputes concerning this property, and the fanciful nature of this design, it may be just another act in a never ending political drama.

Posted by: outtahere at December 11, 2013 11:06 AM

Reminds me of Jeff Shelton, an architect who does similar whimsical-Mission-revival work in Santa Barbara. Anyone know the architect here?

[Editor’s Note: Kirk E. Peterson & Associates Architects.]

Posted by: James at December 11, 2013 11:23 AM

Such a relief to see a design that does not reference ubiquitous 1990's live-work ticky tack!

Posted by: al at December 11, 2013 11:33 AM

It looks pretty cool but I prefer the ramshackle mess that's there now. Let's use the appeals process to preserve that for anothe 40 years instead.

Posted by: Jimmy (not a Real San Franciscan (TM)) at December 11, 2013 11:35 AM

Just checked out Kirk E Peterson's website. I am happy to know I am not the only architect left out there who still paints and draws when designing! I was not familiar with his firm, but I like the work.

Posted by: AnonArch at December 11, 2013 11:42 AM

Telegraph Ave. can use all the help it can get. Years ago when I was a Cal undergraduate Telegraph used to be fun and entertaining - now it's just sleazy and depressing, and I avoid it whenever I'm in Berkeley. Let's hope this project is a step in the right direction.

Posted by: zzzzzz at December 11, 2013 12:11 PM

I believe the correct term is "Moops" or "Moopish"

Posted by: unwarrantedinlaw at December 11, 2013 1:14 PM

This will never get built. If you think NIMBYism is bad in SF, you don't know Berkeley.

Posted by: formidable doer of the nasty at December 11, 2013 1:31 PM

For a little more background, Sarachan's previous attempt to build on the site was a pagoda-bedecked architectural extravaganza. In frustration, the city attempted to foreclose on the liens that encumber the property.

Posted by: EBGuy at December 11, 2013 1:42 PM

No, this will never get built in Berkeley.

Not so much due to the voice of Nimbys there, but rather for this just being such BAD architecture.

It might as well have been designed by the Disney Imagineers: pure stage set, not even a good copy of real Moorish, just a cobbled together child's drawing, mixed in with a fake cave.

But I see for those of you who like it, calling it cool, fun, wacky, you are showing your provincialism, and lack of desire for serious, contemporary, RELEVANT design. This design is equivalent to the McMansions out in Blackhawk, only more confused.

It's "easy" to look at, but it lacks intelligence and depth.

We can only hope the intelligent minds of Berkeley (there are some) will fiercely oppose this little pile of stucco.

I'm ready for the pitchforks. Bring it on.

Posted by: Futurist at December 11, 2013 1:56 PM

So what exactly is intelligent and possessing of enough depth, then? tastefully angular, with exposed wood siding and cement board squares? Stainless steel accents with exposed fasteners in all the right places? Because if that's what you want, chances are there are five of them being built down the street right now.

Before someone tells me to get with the times, I don't mind "modern" at all- if it is done well. But there was a time when people were allowed to employ a little whimsy and imagination in design, and it was that permission to have some fun that led to some of the more picturesque and beloved buildings in this region. This building has the potential to become a real draw for that intersection, and if built will likely spawn its own imitators. When that happens, I imagine the question will become whether those imitators are able to hold their own against the high standard set here.

Posted by: Adam at December 11, 2013 2:32 PM

Build this out on the mud flats, with an access road that is 1 inch underwater at high tide.

Posted by: redseca2 at December 11, 2013 2:44 PM

@ Adam: well, THIS is not intelligent, for sure.

Read my comments again: stage set, fake, lacking any depth and true expression of genuine Moorish architecture.

You're defining "modern" not me. I'm not advocating any particular style, since I am not the architect of this project.

I am advocating, appropriate, intelligent design.

Posted by: Futurist at December 11, 2013 2:50 PM

This looks wonderful, much more attuned to human needs than the McHousing units shat out regularly in SF. I wish we could have this on Market between Van Ness and Church, but I know our Blanding Dept would plotz. That and jealous local architects would pout about the loss of a building site where they could try just one more time to design something in steel and glass that an actual human would want to look at. That is, those humans lacking the sheepskin blinders required to understand contemporary architecture, which I'm told is much better than it looks.

Gaudi? You missed by 500 years.

Posted by: othello at December 11, 2013 2:51 PM

redseca2: Ooh, and a cable-driven ferryboat.

Anyway, I love it.

Posted by: Alai at December 11, 2013 2:57 PM

I sort of like it. The bottom half represents the current state: unkept. The top half is aspirational: a glimpse of the beauty to come on the street. Perhaps one day this will be the least attractive building on the block.

In regard to Gaudi. I saw a docmentary film about his work and wasn't impressed. Some of his work reminded me of sets that are created around roller coster rides at Magic Mountain and Disneyland. Something that falls just short of looking real. Maybe his work just doesn't translate well on film. Or maybe growing up around all the American kitsch has ruined my abilty to appreciate intersting architecture.

Posted by: VancouverJones at December 11, 2013 3:02 PM

@futurist;

I wish you would provide a definition of what you are looking for. What is appropriate, what is intelligent? I agree those are important qualities, but they can also be quite subjective.

Posted by: Adam at December 11, 2013 3:20 PM

Well,adam: all qualities can be seen as subjective. I agree.

Including your words, fun, whimsical and "imagination in design".

Intelligent would be NOT "copying" verbatim the period styles and parts of authentic, period architecture ie; Moorish, but rather interpreting the essence of that style, without mimicking it. Disneyland, in all the locations, just mimics styles around the world. They are easily understood by the masses who hunger for the Disney "experience". There is no thinking required, just looking and feeling good.

For real Moorish, think thick walls, deep openings, turrets and towers with function. The architect of this subject project even attempts to add elements of Venetian palazzo style and Renaissance palace into the façade. How ridiculous.

Appropriate, IMO, would be to interpret the Bay Area Region of style: Think, Esherick, Ratcliff, Moore Turnbull, and other similar modernists of the Bay Area.

Again, yes, it can all be subjective, but my personal opinion is that this project is a joke.

Posted by: Futurist at December 11, 2013 3:55 PM

People that like cool, fun, disney copies are mortal, everyday folks too. Just to let you know. You seem to feel it's an us vs. them approach to design. Well, it's not.

Without knowing every single factor that went into the design of this building, including the budget, the client, the contractor, the developer, the Planning Commission, the codes, the appeals and on and on; we cannot say that they made poor decisions.

They probably made decisions that didn't please YOU or many others, but that's really not the concern of every day folks. Some will agree. Some will not. The "men on the street", quite frankly do not care about the opinion of architects. Not as any judgment or putdown, but simply BECAUSE they other others to answer to. And every architect will have a different opinion.

And let's be clear: "architects" have their own definition of aesthetics and "beauty". It's all very subjective. So, say this building was a "good" example of appropriate, urban, modern architecture with corner expression enhanced, the two upper floors set back from the bottom 4 to minimize street impact at the sidewalk, not too busy, but a good repetition of the square bay windows, had uniformity and rhythm, with glass balconies to visually lighten the edges, upper level sunshade projects to enliven façade, the upper level façade is lighter in color to minimize impact, and 2 value color scheme that was simple and understated, and YOU love all that. The next everyday guy doesn't.

So what? Your idea of opportunities to enhance and beautify Berkeley are very different from others, or mine for instance. It's subjective and it's a personal opinion.

I get that a lot of people here on SS just love to trash every new building design proposed. Which almost implies, they really like nothing new.

Could that be the real San Franciscan speaking?

Posted by: Rillion at December 11, 2013 4:32 PM

Of course it's subjective, and we both have agreed that way.

But I sense there is a bit of us vs. them in your comments. I don't think that way. Some people here on SS just do NOT like the opinion of architects, period. They have already made up their minds.

But I do think the vast majority of public knows and likes good, intelligent architecture when they see it.

I think most in Berkeley would agree with me that this stucco faux Moorish pile is neither intelligent nor "good".

Posted by: Futurist at December 11, 2013 4:40 PM

In our lifestyle-oriented, media-saturated age, perhaps the old ideology needs to be updated: A house is a stage set for living.

Posted by: James at December 11, 2013 5:07 PM

@apropos

Actually - I was referring the lower 1/3 or so - It looks like "Casa Mila" aka "La Pedrera" near Carrer Graca

The rest - looks like any 600 year old moorish building on the iberian peninsula....only I'm sure it will be built out of spit and mud.....nothing more......

Posted by: mdg at December 11, 2013 5:58 PM

Kirk Peterson (the architect) has a very strong track record in Berkeley, and probably a lot of credibility with whoever decides these things. Among others, he did the very prominent Bachenheimer and Gaia buildings downtown, which are both credible, well-done pastiches of revival styles fashionable about a century ago in urban California. He also did the Il Piemonte at the top of Piedmont Ave in Oakland (Slicer Pizzeria just opened there recently); that's the only one of his buildings I've been very far inside, and the condos were bizarrely laid out and very poorly finished. I think it depends on how much money gets thrown at it. (For what his aesthetic looks like done REALLY cheaply, I think he also did the two-building complex at 51st and Telegraph in Temescal (Pawn shop, Juhu Beach Club) - that one belongs next to a gas station on I-5 somewhere.)

But decrying this for eccentricity or as a violation of architectural integrity or the obligation to modernism? Please. This is fashion; some people like McQueen and some like t-shirts. The majority of the glassy towers going up and proposed all over south of Market are every bit as contrived and derivative as this building, but they're considerably less honest about owning their sources. In terms of "architectural integrity" I don't see any meaningful distinction between Disneyfied and Fosterized.

Posted by: Don at December 11, 2013 6:10 PM

His work is just that, as you said: pastiche.

Poorly done. Cheap. Easy to read. Not interesting.

You don't have to like works by Norman Foster but his world class firm, designs the best of the best of the best, modern, of its' time urban architecture.

This project is at the bottom of the heap.

Posted by: Futurist at December 11, 2013 6:14 PM


The sad truth is that this building could be glorious or could be a tacky horror -- it all depends on how carefully the details are done.

Will the 'rock' at the base wind up as mostly stucco over framing? Will the windows be set deeply into thick walls, or will they be vinyl set into styrofoam surrounds?

Unfortunately these things are hard to track when permits are issued. Given the budget the present owner has allocated to the neighborhood to date, I would not hold out much hope for a high-end execution….


Posted by: around1905 at December 11, 2013 6:48 PM

I said Fosterized, not Foster, by which I mean the legions of architects and/or developers who build large, conventionally stylish rectangles with bits attached that make either vague or specific reference to Foster's more thoughtful (but not necessarily practical or "honest") design decisions. Some buildings get Gehried instead (often by Gehry). There is nothing the matter with pastiche; I used the word as a descriptive, not a disparagement. Quite a few fashionable architectural styles since at least the 18th century have been pastiche to a greater or lesser extent, including the colliding revival sources of this building. (And certainly including neo-international-style modernism.)And for the most part we seem to like them very much, despite their utterly inauthentic and shameless appropriations. SF wouldn't have many landmarks at all otherwise.

What this rendering really reminds me of is the much-reviled Palazzo Chupi in NYC, by Julian Schnabel. I'm not sure I love that building and I'm not sure I love this one, but both feel truer to the mythologies of their locations - funnier, louder, more out of step - than anything more safely "modern". (On the other hand, done badly it'll be that much harder to ignore. I barely notice the shitty glass boxes any more)

Posted by: Don at December 11, 2013 8:00 PM

around1905 writes to the crux of this proposal. It is really hard to fake features made to look as if they're of another material or era without having them look fake. And doing it right is expensive. The uncanny valley doesn't look very deep or wide, but crossing it is harder than it looks.

Jeff Shelton on the other hand pulls stuff like this off successfully because he creates his own lexicon of whimsy which signals that there's no attempt to conceal the modern construction.

You can reference historic design without going for the full effect, or even going po-mo.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 11, 2013 11:28 PM

@MOD. I never heard the term "uncanny valley" until you used it in your post. Very intersting concept. Thanks for the insight.

Posted by: VancouverJones at December 12, 2013 9:57 AM

My preference for buildings is beautiful > Ugly > Boring. I have no problems admitting that yes, I would prefer an ugly building over a boring one. In fact I end up calling the ugly one's "interesting" and the boring ones ugly (2000 Ellis St).

Posted by: Rillion at December 12, 2013 10:01 AM

Trouble is this valley that MOD talks about has absolutely nothing to do with architectural design.

Falls flat. Just as the design of this building has already done.

Posted by: Futurist at December 12, 2013 10:14 AM

I really want to like it, if for no other reason that I am so sick of cookie cutter condo complexes and bay windows. That said, it is quite an awful structure and in 20 years it will look no better for wear. While it is in keeping with a quintessentially western American tradition of vernacular roadside architecture, it is far less expressive of any functional use than its predecessors of the 1950s. It reminds me of the ill-fated "blob" building in Seattle's Queen Anne area. That said, in 20 years it will also likely have landmark status if the nuts in Berkeley stay true to form.

Posted by: Chris at December 12, 2013 10:19 AM

"We can only hope the intelligent minds of Berkeley (there are some) will fiercely oppose this little pile of stucco."

Students of Cal, yes. Old hippy dippy residents of Berkeley pining for the return of the 60's, not so much.

Posted by: Toady at December 12, 2013 11:35 AM

Don, Thanks for the the spirited defense of "pastiche" (or whatever you did up there). It is hard to escape that term when you look at Peterson's work (though, it is, in most cases, used a pejorative). The "Trader Joe's building" at University and MLK is also another Kirk Peterson design -- and one where irate folks love to point out stuck on doodads and other ornamentation they don't like. I have a hard time separating that building from the vitality it brings to that corner. Peterson's human scale architecture needs to be appreciated in the context of the urban landscape.
The architect is dealing with a client whose last vision for the site was pagodas, so in some ways he is very constrained and admits "it could be really awful or really wonderful, it’s all in the detail”.

Ken Sarachan, who bought the north-west corner lot on Telegraph and Haste in 1994, has visions for a Moorish palace-like structure inspired by Italian hill towns, Tibetan forts and the rock-cut architecture of Petra in Jordan. Talk about uncanny valleys.

BTW, Peterson is the architect for Acheson Commons, a complex that, once completed, will serve as a gateway to UC Berkeley along University Avenue.

Posted by: EBGuy at December 12, 2013 12:11 PM

The Acheson Commons project is a perfect example of faux-historicist architecture:

Safe, pleasing to look at by the man on the street.

Not really interesting, not really unique. Blends in.

Not challenging, in the least bit, design-wise. Ultimately boring. Ultimately average.

Posted by: Futurist at December 12, 2013 12:19 PM

And let's be clear: "architects" have their own definition of aesthetics and "beauty". It's all very subjective.

Well I agree with most of this.

One thing you'll never get an actual architect to admit or agree to is that there's a lot of "groupthink" and subtly-enforced orthodoxy in "modern" architecture, and that's why a lot of projects look so damn similar. But I don't think it's subjective to them.

Note that Futurist is always saying, when he doesn't like a project that isn't modernist, that the design isn't "challenging", and this almost always goes in front of the use of "disney" as an epithet.

"Challenging", when an architect uses it in my experience, is code for "something that the layman won't like, but that people who have sat through a few years of Architecture-school crits will think is 'innovative'. In other words, more non-architects that not will find it "ugly".

Another way to see this is that all the usual in-crowd suspects object to projects like this one and Lucas' proposal for a Cultural Arts Museum in the Presidio.

I like this design. I agree with Milkshake that pulling something like this off convincingly will be expensive and require the skills of a careful team of contractors, but I hope the owners have the funds to do it, because if it's executed right, it'll be a wonderful addition to the area.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at December 12, 2013 1:43 PM

Yeah Futurist if you want to get nit picky "uncanny valley" isn't specifically an architectural term. It belongs to the fields of human perception and psychology.

Hopefully architects care about how people perceive their designs.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 12, 2013 1:51 PM

You rebutted some of my comments well, Brahma: Although I don't agree with you.

The average "man on the street", which is not meant as an insult, merely a descriptor, does not care to be challenged when it comes to design.

They (generally, but not always) prefer architecture to be easily "read", familiar, nostalgic and "comfortable". Why are 99.9% of all new homes built simply cheap caricatures of a period or style? homey, like granny's house, like a fake Italian Villa, like a fake castle, like a fake Spanish Mission. They love the Thomas Kinkade crap of ye olde tymes.

Because they can IDENTIFY with that kind of cheesy style, without having to think. Just walk up to the front of this building and be transformed back into the Land of Arabian Nights. And thanks, I'll have a tall Starbucks mocha latte, light whip.

And this building falls into that same category of crap from ye olde tymes.

Posted by: Futurist at December 12, 2013 2:07 PM

Petersen DOES do this kind of architecture better than most current architects. Interior planning may not be so good, I will agree, but his buildings usually include fun details...ironwork, tile, graphic designs, that usually go well beyond the standard, bland suburban pastiche. This building will work very well here.

I am extremely skeptical of references to "cutting edge" and snide comments about the "man on the street". Especially given the horrors modernist architects foisted on the world over the past fifty years. There is a pretty nasty element of arrogance here which architects, on the whole, have not earned in any way. Look at the slashing, motion-sickness causing angles and silly structural computer-generated games that really don;t work very well at creating comfortable urban places. This building at least has traditional urban scale while being a little fun.

Give me poorly done pastiche over poorly done modernism any day. Modernism done with unlimited budgets in special locations can be wonderful. Heck, my post Lotto house would be to hire the successor firm for Pierre Koenig (R.I.P.)
http://www.stahlhouse.com/

But notice....the case Study House 22 is located on an isolated suburban lot, not in a dense, somewhat traditional urban context.

This is fine...and a lot of fun. Why does new construction only have to reflect the faux-intellectualism and structural games of the modern architecture cult?

Posted by: Brian M at December 12, 2013 5:46 PM

Used to be that "cutting edge" could safely be defined as something so unsettling to the conventions of its time that it disturbed and upset people. This building, judging by the comments, is turning into the Rite Of Spring of Bay Area development proposals. I therefore pronounce it cutting edge. Build it and shock the philistines.

As to the faux-historicist canard: among the other faux-historicist affronts that come to mind are The Claremont Hotel, UC Berkeley's International House, coffered ceilings, the entire oeuvre of Julia Morgan, the Palaces of Fine Art and the Legion of Honor, any Maybeck house with a Doric column somewhere on or in it, any Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian column in the western hemisphere, all "Georgian" houses west of Philadelphia, the carpenter Gothic church down Telegraph Avenue from me, Oakland's Fox Theater, SF City Hall, the cast-iron buildings of SoHo and almost everything you see in your mind's eye when I say "Washington DC" (including some of the politicians). So if it's an insult, I'm not feeling the sting. Except for the politicians.

Posted by: Don at December 13, 2013 4:38 PM

^^^ Asilomar is faux-historic?

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 13, 2013 10:08 PM

With this definition, would any newly-built building in San Francisco with bay windows be considered faux-historic?

Posted by: Toady at December 14, 2013 8:57 AM

Now THIS is how development is done -- two antagonists with guns drawn, two decades in the making. The building passed the Zoning Adjustments Board, now on to the Design Review Committee. I can already hear "I love it" through clenched teeth. Rock the Casbah.

Posted by: EBGuy at December 16, 2013 1:49 PM

Posted by: SocketSite at February 24, 2014 8:35 AM

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