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UC Berkeley set to demolish brutalist gem

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Another gentle concrete giant will be put to rest at year’s end

Home to the school’s graduate school of education and campus department of psychology, UC Berkeley will move forward with plans to demolish Tolman Hall, one of the school’s underrated brutalist buildings.

Built in 1963, the five-story concrete low-rise was named after Edward C. Tolman, a Cal professor who founded a branch of psychology called purposive behaviorism.

UC Berkeley describes the building thusly:

Tolman Hall’s mid-20th century modernist look, inspired by the work of famed architect Le Corbusier, won a major award for architect Gardner Dailey, who also designed Evans, Morrison, Hertz, and Kroeber Halls. Less-impressed reports that its labyrinthine design and inscrutable room-numbering system were inspired by the rat-maze experiments of its namesake, behavioral psychologist Edward Chace Tolman, are the stuff of urgan legend. Today, the building is sorely overcrowded and its signature suspended breezeway and molded concrete decorations are slated for a seismic overhaul.

Sadly, the brutal beast must be slain. The building, while a darling on Instagram, received a “poor” seismic rating from structural engineering firms as part of UC Berkeley’s Seismic Action Plan for Facilities Enhancement and Renewal, or SAFER.

Today it sits mostly empty—both the psychology and education departments have moved elsewhere on campus, presumably inside safer dwellings—as it awaits its day of execution slated for later 2018/early 2019.

Photo by Melinda Stuart/Flickr

’Tis a pity. Haven’t you heard? Brutalism is back, due in large part to Instagram. Look at the hashtags #brutalism or #brutalismo and you’ll see why.

Once dismissed as an architectural misstep by armchair critics, the graphic style of design, which thrived from 1951 to 1975, was practically made for social media. The hard lines, the geometric patterns, the shadows, and the masses of concrete have helped make this look popular on the ‘gram.

The renewed attention by a new generation have also helped spark conservation efforts.

“Just the act of simply ‘liking’ something meant that those ‘likes’ turned into conservation campaigns,” Virginia McLeod, an editor at Phaidon who helped create the Atlas of Brutalist Architecture, tells Bloomberg.

While Tolman Hall isn’t long for this world, you can still see some choice brutalist structures around the Bay Area. Check out the Embarcadero PG&E Substation (San Francisco), the Newman Hall Holy-Spirit Parish (Berkeley), Fruitvale and Glen Park BART stations, and the Paffard Keatinge-Clay-designed rooftop at San Francisco Art Institute for great brutalist that will have your followers smashing that “like” button.