Commemorating the life of an international leader and educator in the disability rights movement, the Ed Roberts Campus recently opened in Berkeley. When Ed Roberts founded Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living (CIL) in 1972, it was the world’s first organization to be run by and for people with disabilities. After Roberts’s death in 1995, the CIL and six other independent living/civil rights organizations joined forces to create a highly accessible, centralized place where the disabled can access services such as vocational training, education, housing and benefits assistance, and fitness and health support.
Designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects and located at the Ashby BART Station, the 85,000 sqf facility embodies the principles of Universal Design—the creation of environments that strive to be equally easy and intuitive to use for individuals of all abilities. The design far exceeds the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At the heart of the building is a monumental helical ramp to the second floor, prominently placed behind the glazed facade facing the main entry plaza.
Other Universal Design features include seven-foot-wide corridors to facilitate wheelchair use, automatic doors and hands-free building system controls, restrooms that meet a range of abilities, oversized elevators with special controls for wheelchair riders, and an easy-to-navigate wayfinding system aided by acoustical landmarks, high-contrast interior finishes, and colored and textured flooring.
The facility also has numerous sustainable design elements, including exterior shading, operable windows for natural ventilation, energy-efficient mechanical and lighting systems, and the use of recycled, sustainably harvested, and rapidly renewable materials. Nontoxic finishes and filtered outside air enhance indoor air quality, addressing the needs of those with chemical sensitivities.
The two-story building includes offices, exhibition space, community meeting rooms, a childcare center for children with disabilities, a fitness center, job training facilities, and a café. The campus is designed to present a distinct civic presence celebrating the values of its partner organizations, with an exterior materials palette of sandblasted concrete, stucco, and sustainably harvested Ipê wood shade screens. To the east and south, the building’s mass responds to the residential scale of the surrounding neighborhood. A semicircular main entry plaza serves as a drop-off and gathering place as well as a transit plaza for bus, tax, bicycle, and BART riders. A subgrade structure provides parking for staff and visitors and connects directly to the BART station concourse via a new public elevator.
The design process involved numerous public Universal Design workshops as well as intensive engagement with South Berkeley’s neighbors, merchants, and historic preservation community.