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A new Lower Sproul, long a dream, is taking shape

By Carol Ness

Berkeley has 35,000 students, but you’d never know it from wandering through the stark, gray emptiness of Lower Sproul Plaza on a typical evening.

The planned overhaul of Lower Sproul — long desired and now moving forward — intends to change all that.

The redesigned complex is envisioned as the true and beating heart of student life on campus, a hub, a central meeting place where students can congregate, socialize, study, work, discuss, debate and cross-pollinate.

Architects’ renderings for the $223 million renovation show a light-filled area that’s open, inviting and bustling with activity 24/7. Eshleman Hall, currently closed off with walls of concrete, will be replaced by a lower building veiled in glass to expose the busy hive inside — students meeting, studying, dancing, eating, meditating and just hanging out. The transparency and permeability will carry through to the design of an addition to the plaza side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, where walls of glass will put a new campus living room, café and multicultural center on full view. Spaces in Cesar Chavez that frame the north edge of the plaza would be enlivened by visible study centers available to students late into the night.

An inviting ribbon of green would run through the plaza itself, with widened steps meant for lounging at one end and a rain garden to capture storm runoff at the other.

Lower Sproul Plaza

CLICK ON THIS PHOTO, showing Lower Sproul Plaza as it looks now, to see what the architects plan for it. (Peg Skorpinski photos)