Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center

Colorful, lively YMCA Berkeley Teen center

| 10 : 30 – 4 October 2018 |


YMCA teen center, Berkeley teen center, Building facade

YMCA PG&E Teen center in Berkeley by Noll & Tam Architects is an exemplary model of adaptive and community driven architecture.

The decommissioned office building built in 1964 went through a series of thoughtful renovations and additions to accommodate a lively teen center. The transformation of this former Pacific Gas & Electric Co. concrete office drew the involvement of youth alongside various agencies. The two-story former payments office building stand across a park from Berkeley High School. The tall shaded entrance has a striking lime green paint on the outer walls. A partial third floor was added creating a roof deck shaded by a wooden trellis.

View of the colorful stairwell along the Martin Luther road

From the Architects – 

“This project is important for so many reasons. We are a Berkeley firm, committed to sustainable design, and we value the tremendous impact that the Y makes on our community. The best part, by far, is collaborating with the Teen Task Force.” – Janet Tam.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Student learning center, Berkeley, Front facade

Front facade of the renovated YMCA teen center

The YMCA of the Central Bay Area sought to establish a Teen Center in downtown Berkeley. When Pacific Gas & Electric donated a two-story, 8,000-square-foot decommissioned payment center across from Berkeley High School, it provided the ideal mix of opportunity for adaptive reuse.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Concrete office building, Berkeley

Facade of teen center before renovation

The design-build team transformed the 1964 concrete office building into a 13,500-square-foot, flexible, youth-centered space by opening it up with glazed storefronts. Further a new partial third story with roof deck, and creating a flexible interior was added. From its inception, the Teen Center project drew in partners and non-traditional resources. Working side-by-side with PG&E, the YMCA committed to making the project highly sustainable, while at the same time promoting inclusivity throughout the design and construction process.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, YMCA Berkeley center, Reception lobby

Reception area on ground floor

Transformation into teen center – 

The transformation from outdated utilitarian office building into a visually active and accessible community asset, was socially as well as architecturally appropriate for this important civic location. The renovation is intended to reflect a collaboration committed to a sustainable design approach.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Reception desk, Student learning center, Berkeley

View of the outdoor space on 3rd floor from reception

Bright colors reflect a youthful spirit. The design retains the architectural bones of the existing building, in particular the strong vertical columns and the proportions of its main public face on Center Street. This makes overall building more vibrant and colorful to reflect the youthful energy of the Teen Center function. A new third floor, added to house the YMCA Metro administrative offices, is set back from Center Street. It creates space for a roof garden that overlooks Memorial Park.


Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, YMCA housing Berkeley, CAD floor plan

Ground floor layout – Teen center


Wooden trellis, Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, YMCA center, Outdoor seating

Roof deck on 3rd floor

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, YMCA Berkeley, CAD drawing, Floor plan

Second and third floor plan

Teamwork –

The project was an intricate disassembly of a two-story concrete building. As in any design involving an existing structure, there were moments of discovery where conditions other than had been summarized emerged. One such example was that the tops of the existing walls were discovered to be sloped or at differing elevations.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Teen center, Student classes, Classroom

Tech center classroom on ground floor

The solution was to horizontally saw-out the tops of walls to match heights in other parts of the building, using a wet track-saw. Since the design called for an ambitious amount of reuse involving teams working in very tight spaces, continuous conversation between the builders, the architects, and the structural engineer was necessary. The team worked to find solutions in a timely manner. Despite the complexity, the team was able to cut the owner’s contracted schedule from nineteen months to only ten. This allowed the Teen Center to open in time for the winter semester.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Student classes, Classroom, Lecture in progress

Program space – A class in progress

Design development – 

The design was developed through collaborative process that involved members of the YMCA’s Teen Task Force, to ensure youth viewpoint was incorporated. Teens recognized the bold significance of the structural steel and concrete as key elements of the structure. The project team intentionally avoided excess in terms of finishes, instead retaining a rough-edged “industrial” interior design aesthetic. This required our subcontractors to provide quality craftsmanship in finishing and polishing concrete, and plastering.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Student housing, Education center, YMCA Berkeley

Lobby along conference room on 2nd floor

The YMCA actively engaged teens alongside highly knowledgeable real estate developers, project managers and program directors in all aspects of design and planning. This youth involvement helped ensure that the Center is teen-friendly and teen-focused, while also aesthetically pleasing for the larger community. A dedicated Teen Task Force made key project decisions and took active, substantive roles in the project.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Staircase artwork, Artwork on stairwell, Painting

Artwork on stair wall

The tasks were hiring the architect, collaboratively developing the building program and design, presenting to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and hiring the contractor. Teens wrote Requests for Qualifications & Proposals, learned to conduct interviews, and took tours of the architectural firms.  They were directly involved in creating an identity for their new place, and in determining how to express their vision.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Teen center, student study area

Open program and interaction space

Participation of youth in teen center – 

For their participation, the teens earned a salary, paid for through a YMCA partnership with the Rotary Club. If they stayed on for a year, they received an additional financial educational award. The UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund awarded the Teen Center grants totaling over $1 million, and will continue to award grants annually through 2020.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Teen center, YMCA, Reception desk

Double height reception lobby and entrance on ground floor

The grants support community service programs that enhance the economic, social or cultural well-being of Berkeley residents. They also support neighborhood-improvement projects that enhance the physical environment of the city’s neighborhoods. In addition, the rooftop garden is being funded and maintained by Berkeley High School students and Cal Corps volunteers.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Student housing, Counselling center

Conference room

Sustainable features – 

The building exceeds California’s Title 24 Energy Standards by 29.9%, and the project achieved LEED – NC v2.2 Platinum certification through the United States Green Building Council.

Berkeley YMCA - PG&E Teen Center, Student dining space, Yellow paint

Break room – Kitchenette and dining area on 3rd floor

Project details –

Project Name – Berkeley YMCA PG&E Teen center

Architect Firm – Noll & Tam Architects

Project Location – Berkeley, California, United States of America

Project Type – Student housing, Hostel, Educational center,Youth center

Architectural design team – Janet Tam, Alyson Yarus, Scott Salge

Photography Credit – © David Wakely Photography

Landscape design – Dillingham Associates Landscaping

Contractor – Pankow Special Projects L.P

Civil engineer – KPFF Consulting Engineers

Structural engineer – Ingraham-DeJesse Associates

Mechanical & Electrical engineer – Timmons Design Engineers

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