Touring the Hearst Memorial Mining Building at UC Berkeley

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The Hearst Memorial Mining building (HMM) on the UC Berkeley campus is a memorial to George Hearst, former California miner, Senator, and husband of Phoebe Apperson Hearst

In 1899 Berkeley was still a young university when Phoebe Apperson Hearst, George’s widow and a new regent, sponsored a global competition for an architectural master plan for the campus. Over 100 architects submitted entries, but the winner, Emile Benard of Paris, chose not to accept the commission (though he did accept the prize money). Hearst then chose John Galen Howard of New York as chief architect of the campus, a job he retained for 30 years. Howard disregarded Benard’s plan, opting instead to merge his own ideas with those of Frederick Law Olmstead, who had drafted an earlier plan (1866) for the university. Howard’s vision, like Olmstead’s, was to situate the campus along Strawberry Creek, and develop a corridor of lawn and plantings (the Central Glade) to emphasize the natural setting, and take advantage of the view to the Golden Gate Straits (before the Golden Gate Bridge).

The HMM Building is located at the eastern end of the Central Glade, and was the first classroom in the master plan to be constructed (1902-1907). Howard’s design mixed Mediterranean and California Mission styles in a Beaux-Arts building, adding mining details. In the main atrium, soaring 50-foot ceilings contain skylights and vaulting that recall the hollowing out of a mountain. The steel girders and balcony latticework suggest the timber supports of a mining shaft. The design was partly inspired by the reading room of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

Inside the HMM, halls are lined with historic 19th century prints by Carlton Watkins. Watkins, a San Francisco photographer, captured the beauty and the degradation of the mining landscape. The 1906 earthquake destroyed many of Watkins’ original photographic plates, making these photographs unique and valuable.

In 1907 mining was a popular major among the 2,200 students at Cal (there were 247 mining majors that year). The Department offered aspiring miners practical experience as well as teaching and theory. Thus this building included smelters, rock crushers, drill rigs, and a tunnel where students could practice digging and using dynamite.

400px-Lawson_Adit_1917The tunnel, known as the Lawson Adit, extended as much as 900 feet into the Hayward Fault before cave-ins and instability made further exploration unsafe. By 1939 the tunnel was filled in with concrete, leaving only a 200-foot remnant for examination. Today the Lawson Adit is fenced and locked against curious students and visitors. However, in 2014 the Engineering Department inserted sensitive measuring equipment near the fault to monitor seismic activity.

Today the HMM houses the Materials Science and Engineering departments.

A Silicon Valley Tour Guide Visits Facebook

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Last week I was fortunate enough to visit Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. This was not my first time at Facebook. I’ve circled the Facebook campus many times, and I’ve taken my share of pictures at their “Like” sign.

This time I was permitted to go inside.

I was working for a group from Canada who had arranged to visit the campus and then attend meetings with Facebook personnel. As their tour guide, I was going along for the ride.

untitled-21Facebook is currently housed in a 57-acre office complex on Willow Road. The campus was first built for Sun Microsystems in the early 1990’s, an imposing 1,000,000 square feet. I’m told that it was once full of offices and cubicles with no particular design aesthetic. Surrounded by water and looking like a fortress, it was jokingly referred to as “San Quentin”.

That was 20+ years ago, the glory days of Sun Microsystems. Their workstations were a corporate computer of choice. By 2008, they hit harder times.

Sun was acquired by Oracle in 2011. A pension fund now owns the campus.

cropped-untitled-15.jpgFacebook famously began in a Harvard dorm room in early 2004, growing exponentially and moving to the Bay area by June of that year. Their first offices were on University Drive in Palo Alto. In 2009 they moved to Stanford Research Park, and in 2011 signed a 15-year lease for this facility. Interestingly, they chose to keep the Sun Microsystems sign at the entrance, behind their own sign.

This Sun relic reminds Facebook that no company can assume a successful future.

A new 433,500 square foot building is now under construction for Facebook across the Expressway, connected to this campus by tunnel. The new construction, designed by “starchitect” Frank Gehry, will feature offices for 2800 employees and a park-like living roof. The exterior, unlike some Frank Gehry structures, is meant to blend into the marsh-like environment surrounding the campus. The interior architecture of this building and the existing campus reflects Facebook values: openness, innovation, creative collaboration, using plain and practical materials.

What did I see when I toured inside Facebook?

  • Large lighted display panels announcing worldwide numbers of Facebook users

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  • Facebook’s own Wall with magic markers for writing

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  • Industrial architecture revealing open ceilings, ducting, steel support beams

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  • Edgy posters and graffiti on walls

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  • Food in quantity and variety–snacks, fruit, yogurt, hot and cold drinks (some new and some old favorites)

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  • Hacker Plaza –the large open plaza in the middle of campus suitable for large gatherings of the whole workforce. A barbershop and a health center open onto the plaza. The word “Hack” is spelled out in the plaza tiles, visible from an aerial view. A brightly painted bridge connects several buildings. The bridge is painted to evoke the Golden Gate Bridge.

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  • A Ford Pacer and explanation that this car toured the USA for Instagram (Instagram bought by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012)

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While my group was in meetings, I worked at a long conference table with my colleagues, made myself at home in the kitchen, and left my own mark on the Facebook wall.

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