UC Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)

Adaptive re-use of a 1938 historic press building into a state-of-the-art museum with an adjacent free-form structure for a new film archive and theater. This project, also known as the BAMPFA, will be seeking LEED Gold certification.


Customized Solution

  • Forell | Elsesser recently completed this project with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and EHDD Architects. This new museum and cultural center project totals approximately 80,000 sq. ft.  and incorporates a new state-of-the-art theater facility with the rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of an existing art deco style former printing plant.
  • An interesting component of the project is the interaction between the new and existing structures. Large floating volumes connect the structures and act as a gallery and performance spaces. New gallery space is created below the existing building leaving the historic exterior intact.
  • From the street, the theater appears to be floating inside a perimeter glass floor that allows those at the street to see into the subterranean library space. The structural system creates an illusion of floating spaces and volumes while preserving the historic and architecturally expressive components.

Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center

With an energy-efficient design, this DSA approved Performing Arts Center provides acoustically separated rooms, exposed structural elements, and a full-performance theater with a moveable orchestra pit.


Customized Solution

  • This new facility includes a 500-seat full performance theater, a 150-seat black-box theater, catwalks, scene shop, studios, and rehearsal spaces. Perhaps the greatest engineering challenge was the full performance theater with its massive counterweight system, located in the fly tower, which controls large moveable sections of the theatrical space.
  • Even with exposed concrete and steel structural elements throughout the building, Forell | Elsesser helped create acoustic separations between rooms, as it was essential for sound to be contained between each performance/rehearsal space. In addition to these sound requirements, the project team met the rigorous plan checking of the Division of State Architect (DSA).
  • The building design uses passive systems including natural daylighting in perimeter spaces as well as natural ventilation within the corridors and lobby to increase energy efficiency.

Congregation Beth Sholom

Of the three distinct structures in this project, the dramatic bowl-shaped Sanctuary, supported by a narrow pedestal, is undoubtedly the most memorable and required the most innovative engineering.


Customized Solution

  • The distinctive sanctuary is enclosed by a large, curved post-tensioned concrete shell supported on a narrow pedestal, giving it the appearance of almost defying gravity. The unusual bowl-shape and pedestal support required specific analysis and detailing techniques not typically used for buildings of this nature. Although not required by code, non-linear rocking analyses were performed to verify that the size and strength of the mat foundation were sufficient to create seismic stability.
  • The sanctuary is comprised of architecturally exposed colored concrete, and this hard surface can result in echoing. Therefore, the inside face of the vertical walls are faceted in a checkerboard fashion to improve acoustics.
  • A continuous perimeter skylight separates the ceiling from the sanctuary walls, which posed a unique engineering dilemma for supporting the outer walls. To address this problem, the end walls are partially post-tensioned to control deflections and cracking, providing strength to resist gravity and seismic forces.
  • In addition to the sanctuary, the one-story plaza provides meeting and library space on the ground floor and room for public gatherings on the roof. It also provides a link between the social hall and the sanctuary.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

This San Francisco landmark is designed to resist seismic forces despite 6-stories of unique floor planning, a huge drum-shaped skylight, and accommodation for heavy sculpture weight.


Customized Solution

  • The 6-story MOMA is an immediately recognizable focal point in the Yerba Buena Garden area in downtown San Francisco and houses galleries, workshops, offices, and public event spaces.
  • Perhaps the greatest engineering obstacles were found in the differences between the unique floor plans, mezzanine levels, and unusual shapes throughout the building—all of which created structural irregularities. Though the plans created a complex problem, Forell | Elsesser collaborated closely with the architect to create a simply configured structural system that would provide seismic stability.
  • Along with the signature, 35-foot diameter drum skylight which rises through an open atrium, the museum also sports 2-story high interior spaces with long-span roofs. Even with the structurally irregular floor plans and building shapes, the facility is designed to support extra weight for heavy sculptures.


This 35,000 s.f., 3-story urban, performing arts center will be dedicated to the learning, practice, and presentation of jazz. With a pop-up roof and heavy theatre equipment above a large auditorium, the structure itself may inspire some songs.


Customized Solution

  • With a 700-seat auditorium, in addition to a lobby, cafe, 80-seat multi-purpose ensemble space, practice rooms, a music lab, and office spaces, this performing arts center provides all of the accommodations of a sprawling cultural facility in a small, urban package. This was achieved by carefully stacking the theatre equipment above the theatre space and moving the ventilation systems below theater-goers’ seats. This required careful engineering to seismically strengthen the roof as well as extensive excavation to allow for the ventilation plenum underground.
  • Any performing arts center requires extensive wiring and other utilities that the structural engineering must allow for, but for a center of this nature on a site this size, it becomes a particular challenge. The project team worked in close collaboration with the architect, sub-consultants, and construction contractors to allow for the wall and floor openings that were architecturally necessary while also maintaining the necessary programmed space —both in terms of seismic strength and functionality.
  • Forell | Elsesser worked closely with all project team consultants to maintain the fast-paced schedule while helping with the project’s goal of LEED Gold Certification.