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Design for the Disabled: The Ed Roberts Campus

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:59 AM
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by Sally B. Woodbridge last modified Jan 30, 2011

The Ed Roberts Campus is a nonprofit corporation serving the Independent Living Movement of People with Disabilities. The 85,000 sq. ft. building contains their offices along with fully accessible meeting rooms, a computer/media resource center, a fitness center, a cafe, and a child development center.




The Ed Roberts Campus is a nonprofit corporation housed in the building shown above on Adeline St. across from the Ashby BART station in Berkeley, California. The corporation is composed of seven organizations that share a common history in the Independent Living Movement of People with Disabilities. The 85,000 sq. ft. campus building contains their offices along with fully accessible meeting rooms, a computer/media resource center, a fitness center, a cafe, and a child development center.

Designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy (LMS), the campus opened in December 2010 after a ten-year design period.

The building’s site, part of a parking lot for the Ashby BART station, had been excavated down to the station platform in the 1960s and left undeveloped. Located between parking lots and a very wide roadway, Adeline St., it was an urban wasteland with uses that contributed to neighborhood crime. Yet, in spite of the Ed Roberts Campus project’s high social purpose, there was strong neighborhood opposition.

So who was Edward Roberts and how did the building named after him come about?

Roberts (1939-1995) was an international leader and educator in the independent living and disability rights movements. After contracting polio when he was 14, Roberts was paralyzed from the neck down and able to move only one finger, he required an iron lung or respirator to breathe. Yet he fought throughout his life to enable all persons with disabilities to fully participate in society  and lead independent lives.

Roberts’ numerous achievements began with his being the first student with significant disabilities to attend UC Berkeley. While there, he became a founder of UC’s Physically Disabled Students Program, the model for Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living (CIL) and over 400 independent living centers across the country. Governor Jerry Brown appointed him the state’s first disabled Director of Rehabilitation. He was also awarded a MacArthur fellowship and was co-founder and President of the World Institute on Disability.


Shortly after his death in 1995, the Ed Roberts Campus organization initiated plans for a building commemorating his advocacy of independent living for the disabled. Leaders of the disability community met in the office of Berkeley’s Mayor’s and  decided to commemorate Robert’s work by supporting the organizations that he helped start and the Independent Living Movement that he championed. Their decision led to the establishment of the corporation in 1998. Prior to initiating any architectural design work, an extensive community outreach effort to disability communities began.

The site on Adeline Sreett. between Woolsey and Prince Streets. and across from the Ashby BART station was selected because its proximity to transportation enabled people with disabilities as well as others to travel to their offices efficiently, comfortably and safely. The corporation also funded  a public elevator from Adeline St. to the station entrance and pedestrian access from the underground station platform to the street level near the building entrance. A model rendering shown below depicts the connection of the campus building to the underground BART station.

A section through the building and the BART station

An important design goal for the architects was to address the urban design challenge of the long neglected site by linking the campus to its context, including the BART station and its parking lot behind the building and the neighboring residential areas.

The corporation’s social purpose of serving the disabled was formally expressed by recessing the building’s main entrance from the sidewalk, as shown below in the photo and ground floor plan, to create a space where wheelchairs and pedestrians would have room to interact.

Another important contribution to the welcoming character of the building was the use and treatment of natural  materials to give the campus a non-institutional character. A band of tinted laminated glass fins create a colorful accent above the main entrance. Red/brown ipe wood was used in walls and slatted screens, shown below. The screens and sunshades filter sunlight, creating patterns the enliven the surfaces and change with the daily course of the sun.

Below is a view of the south end of the building showing the ipe wood screen that extends from the building and follows the path to a secondary entrance off Woolsey St.




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