Cal Stadium's 'Floating' Press Box Wins National Award

The large, two-story press box that appears to float above the rebuilt Memorial Stadium at the University of California at Berkeley has won a national award for innovation in steel structures. The award was presented at the stadium on Friday.

The press box at the UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium is one of 13 winners of the 2013 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards (IDEAS2) from the American Institute of Steel Construction. Photo credit: Tim Griffith
The press box at the UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium is one of 13 winners of the 2013 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards (IDEAS2) from the American Institute of Steel Construction. Photo credit: Tim Griffith
Published Sept. 22, 2013, 7:36 p.m.; updated Sept. 23, 2:10 p.m.

National recognition has come to what is probably the most visually striking feature of the new UC Berkeley football stadium – the two-story press box that appears almost to hover on top of the stadium's western side.

The American Institute of Steel Construction has named it a national winner of the 2013 awards for innovative engineering and architecture. 

The press box is the "crown jewel" of the campus' rebuilt Memorial Stadium, the institute said in its descriptions of the 2013 winners' roster, titled "13 structural steel buildings that dazzle" on the Building Design & Construction website.

The award – known officially as the 2013 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2) – was presented Friday afternoon at the $321 million stadium in a ceremony that included the smiling faces of most members of the winning team of architects, engineers, contractors, steel fabricators and others who played key roles in the project.

"This project seemed impossible when we first started," said Joseph Diesko, project director for Los Angeles-based HNTB Architecture, one of the two architecture firms that worked on the press box.

He gave credit to his colleague Fernando Vasquez, calling him "the real brainchild who came up with idea."

Vasquez, who was not at the ceremony, began by sketching improbable if not impossible designs – like a giant Cal bear holding up the press box – as a way to generate ideas, Diesko recalled.

The two-story, 375-foot long press box is impressive in part because it makes a heavy building – made with 1,350 tons of structural steel and designed to hold more than 1,700 people – appear to be "floating" on top of the stadium wall, the institute said.

Its merits also include the integrated curve of the structure and the cantilevered balcony on the rear of the press box' upper level that affords an impressive panoramic view of San Francisco Bay, the institute said.

Even though the entire structure is called "the press box," the press seating portion is only part of it, with press seats and an operations center on the bottom floor, and a large club/events room and sky seating for fans on the upper level.

And, the institute stressed, the achievement is especially noteworthy because the structure sits on top of one of the most significant building challenges ever faced by the university, or anyone else. The active Hayward Fault runs right through the middle of the stadium and its creeping movement was literally tearing the old stadium, built in 1923, in half.

The new stadium, which opened for last fall's football season, is designed to withstand six feet of horizontal displacement due to fault rupture and two feet of vertical fault movement, according to Forell/Elsesser, the San Francisco-based engineering firm on the stadium rebuild and a member of the winning team on the press box award.

Réne Vignos, a principal at Forell/Elsesser, told Patch that the fault-straddling stadium consists of seven large pieces designed to allow each one to adjust separately in the event of an earthquake. A large, eighth segment is the bulk of the east-side seating, which is not a building and rests directly on the hillside, Vignos said.

More than 100 projects were submitted in the 2013 competition, and 13 were selected as winners of awards, said Larry Flynn, the American Institute of Steel Construction representative who presented the press box team's award Friday.  

"This is the highest award we give," Flynn said. He gave a crystal trophy to Forell/Elsesser, which submitted the application, and the other team winners received photos of the press box in commemorative frames bearing small, inscribed metal plates. 

The winning press box team named on the institute's winners web page is:

Building Team
  • Owner: The University of California, Berkeley, Calif.
  • Architect: HNTB Architecture, Inc., Los Angeles
  • Architect: STUDIOS Architecture, San Francisco
  • Structural Engineer: Forell/Elsesser Engineers, Inc., San Francisco
  • General Contractor: Webcor Builders, San Francisco
  • Steel Fabricator: The Herrick Corporation, Stockton, Calif.
  • Steel Detailer: SNC, Compton, Calif.
  • Steel Erector: The Herrick Corporation,Stockton, Calif.
  • Consultant: Hassett Engineering, Inc., Castro Valley, Calif. 
Those receiving the award at the ceremony were Bob Milano Jr. and Christine Shaff from UC Berkeley, Diesko and Greg Baker from HNTB Architecture, Vignos and Christopher Petteys from Forell/Elsesser, Stephen Newborn from Webcore Builders, Thomas Kuznik from Herrick Corp., and Patrick Hassett from Hassett Engineering.

Further details about the press box and the other winners can be found on the the contest web page posted on the Building Design & Construction website. And more information about the engineering of the press box is posted on the Forell/Elsesser website.


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