From a quick count of a campus map, you’ll see that there are over fifty stand-alone buildings on UC Berkeley’s main campus. Among these are libraries, lecture halls, buildings with research centers and labs, ten story buildings, tiny buildings, and buildings famous for getting students lost in their mazes (I’m talking to you Dwinelle Hall…). From most points on campus you can spot buildings spanning several eras of architecture, sometimes with ages separated by a hundred years or more. Currently the oldest building on campus is South Hall, built in 1873, and the newest is Berkeley Way West built in 2018.
However, one subsection of our buildings that I think even us tour guides and Bear Talk bloggers sometimes miss are ones built in the sixties. The 1960s was the height of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, but it also featured a period of major construction and expansion which created many of the most well known (albeit, not necessarily for their architecture) buildings on campus. At least twenty-three campus buildings were built during this period including residence halls known as “The Units”, the tallest academic building on campus Evans Hall, and our twenty-four hour library, Moffitt. These buildings from the sixties still form a substantial part of campus infrastructure today, even if they aren’t necessarily “notable” campus tour destinations. I believe either their abundance or intermediate age, being neither new nor old, make them somehow less exciting than other parts of campus, so often times even their best features go overlooked.
One such building, completed in 1961, in McCone Hall. Housing both of my home departments, Earth & Planetary Science and Geography, as well as the lab where I do undergraduate research, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the building. As a curious explorer of campus, one of my favorite things to do is assess the merits of various campus balconies, and although well known to those who frequent the building, McCone’s tranquil fifth floor view is a well kept secret from those who do not. In fact, McCone actually has several balconies, all of which get larger in size and more impressive in their views as you move higher in the building, culminating in the fifth floor balcony. This balcony’s westward facing view is almost at tree line, with the San Francisco Bay slightly obscured in the background making for a relatively unique view on campus. To the South, you can look down on Memorial Glade and some of the campus’s most iconic architecture, while to the North you can watch the entertaining roof-top happenings of the largest house in the Berkeley Student Cooperatives, Casa Zimbabwe. With benches and tables, the balcony is also an option for studying in between classes.
As a Geography major, I’ve been taught that physical spaces can carry great significance, and for me, the fifth floor balcony is a place of respite. That view represents learning and understanding the topics I find most engaging, and soaking up sunsets on a quiet patio. More than landmarks like the Campanile or California Memorial Stadium, I’ve found that it’s time spent in little places like this that make up my experience here at Berkeley. Giving tours I always try to emphasize that despite Berkeley’s size, such places do exist, and for me most of those places are in McCone. Here’s to its balconies.