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Field of Dreams: Cal Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium

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The University of California, Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium holds the unique distinction of being listed among the National Register of Historic Places as well as receiving a Gold LEED certification for its accomplishments as being a green building. 

Both honors are well deserved. The National Register’s designation recognizes Memorial Stadium as one of America’s grand old stadiums. Opening in 1923, it was named Memorial Stadium to salute those who lost their lives fighting in World War I. In conceiving this opal-shaped, mammoth (a 73,000-seating capacity) structure, its architects (who included the world-famous John Galen Howard) drew inspiration from Rome’s iconic Colosseum as well as the stadium’s own natural surroundings of the San Francisco Bay and the pine tree-lined Berkeley Hills. 

There was one inherent problem, however, with Memorial Stadium’s location — it sits on top of the Hayward Fault. In the early 2000s, UC Berkeley set about addressing the stadium’s serious earthquake situation in a major way. Because Memorial Stadium had become so deeply connected in the university’s identity, the decision was made to do a complete structural renovation and earthquake upgrade instead of building a new stadium somewhere else. 

The university tasked HNTB Architecture and STUDIOS Architecture firms with a daunting assignment: execute an extensive seismic retrofit, increase the stadium’s square footage by 50%, and modernize the facilities, but without disturbing Memorial Stadium’s historic exterior. 

When the stadium reopened in 2012, the complicated renovation project succeeded on every point. The innovative earthquake retrofitting received an award of excellence from the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations. 

In awarding Memorial Stadium with a Gold LEED designation, the United States Green Building Council noted that the renovation represents “a landmark example of adaptive reuse.”

75% diversion of demolition and building debris was achieved during the construction process; the same percentage also was reached for existing building structure and envelope reuse. Furthermore, the infrastructure eco-upgrades resulted in a 35% reduction in baseline indoor water use, an 18% improvement on baseline building performance rating, and 35% green power purchase. 

This remarkable makeover has earned the stadium (which will be officially called FTX Field at Memorial Stadium starting this football season) a second-place finish among “The ‘Greenest’ College Football Stadiums in the Country” while ranking third on a list of the ten “most energy-efficient college football stadiums.” 

Just as impressive was the seemingly magical way that the stadium’s original architectural integrity was preserved. As HNTB’s director of sports architecture Joseph Diesko told “One question you hear from people who were here before is, ‘What did you do?’ They say, ‘It looks like the same place.’” 

Beyond the structural improvements, other changes provided a positive environmental impact. The removal of an adjacent parking lot has served to reduce vehicle traffic (and the resulting carbon emissions) by the stadium along with promoting public transportation. Fans are able to take shuttles to Memorial Stadium on game days from the downtown Berkeley BART station along with nearby campus locations.

As part of UC Berkeley’s Zero Waste initiative, the school’s athletic department has taken several steps to make Memorial Stadium a greener experience. A comprehensive recycling program involves increasing waste diversion from landfills as well as the reuse of waste material. Recycling and composting bins, bearing the slogan “Blue & Gold Makes Green,” are located in and around the stadium, while concession stands are being stocked with more reusable and compostable items. 

The University of California also is an active participant in the PAC-12 Athletic Conference’s Zero Waste Challenge. During the last football season’s Challenge, Cal-Berkeley picked up the Most Improved Award as the school upped the diversion rate at its Zero Waste football game by nearly 20%. Cal’s football team, however, has a way to go to match their basketball-playing brethren, because that team won the Pac-12 basketball’s Zero Waste Challenge overall title four years in a row.  


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