The Thirteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2011
Berkeley Prize 2011

Talwai - Final Report



The University of California, Berkeley is known for its longstanding tradition of commitment to social issues in architecture, and accordingly it is on this campus that the BERKELEY PRIZE was established. Today, amidst growing concerns that this social aspect of its Environmental Design fields is eroding, I am glad to state that this year’s final entries for the InFORMal competition sponsored by the BERKELEY PRIZE  resurfaced a sensitive, nuanced understanding of the social art of architecture.

The two finalists for the competition prepared 36” x 72” design boards for a final presentation and judging, and showcased them to a four-member jury. Based upon the work and the presentations, the awards were decided.

Ms. Rebecca Hui, a junior majoring in Urban Studies and Business at UC Berkeley, was awarded First Place and $1500 for her exceptional investigation of Gulbai Tekra, Ahmedabad. This slum, known as “Hollywood” to the locals, is a significant site for the creation of statues of Lord Ganesh for large-scale autumn export during the Ganesh Chaturti festival. Rebecca visited, thoroughly documented, and carefully analyzed the informal inhabitation of this artisan population in the slum. Her interviews with the inhabitants were both evidenced by a small video that she presented as well as an eye-catching range of diagrams and photographic documentation that charted various social factors at the site. Synthesizing all of this information, Rebecca proposed an intriguing solution of adding an overpass to the existing site – juxtaposing the informal with the formal in a well-thought out manner. She accompanied this larger design gesture with other proposed changes – for example the materiality of the statues. The presentation of this work was impressive, with first-rate graphics and a holistic understanding of the competition’s goals.

Ms. Zoey Espinoza, a junior majoring in Architecture at UC Berkeley, was awarded Second Place and $1000 for her outstanding work on the BART Station Plaza at 16th Street and Mission Street in San Francisco. She focused on the participants of the weekly nighttime “Poetry Slam” that occurs there, and implemented a design intervention that helped foster this event, an integral part of this site. With painstaking attention given to both social factors and technical aspects of the site, such as acoustics, Zoey altered the site to better accommodate the Poetry Slam while still preserving its essence. The information gleaned from her ethnographic methods –  a combination of interviews, observation, and immersion in the space – was evident in her extremely detailed understanding of each facet of the site and event, and was realized through excellent diagrammatic representation and design. Her design measures, which included a stage, seating, and dynamic waste receptacles, were considerate of the existing conditions and celebrated informality – a unique take on the competition brief. Relating to a space in her immediate community, Zoey provided a wonderful insight into an essential but much-overlooked area in San Francisco’s complicated urban fabric.

When taken together, the disparate sites explored by these two finalists are truly compelling. While the site-specific social conditions are literally oceans apart, these entries demonstrate that the significance of informal, socially disenfranchised inhabitants to society’s civic character is universal. Though both students contented differently with complex issues, there was an underlying acknowledgement and appreciation of these communities that was refreshing to witness. The judges overwhelmingly felt that all work was commendable and it sparked interesting conversation within the jury. I wish to thank the BERKELEY PRIZE, and specifically Ray Lifchez, for giving these contestants and me the opportunity to engage in this endeavor and truly think about the use of space by those groups who are often discounted in design. The experience has been truly remarkable. 

See Rebecca Hui's bioDownload the first place entry

See Zooey Espinoza's bioDownload the second place entry

Additional Help and Information

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Ms. Preeti Talwai, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley United States
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