Cal grad students present vision for Moraga Canyon housing at Monday’s City Council meeting

(l to r) Claire Parisa, Yizhuang Liu, Tomas McKay, Sam Greenberg, Snow Zhu, and Brittaney Bluel hold 3D-printed models of the buildings they designed as part of a UC Berkeley’s James R. Boyce Affordable Housing Studio final project for city planning and architecture grad students.

For the grad students in UC Berkeley’s James R. Boyce Affordable Housing Studio program like Snow Zhu, developing a vision of what housing development is possible at Blair Park and Moraga Canyon afforded a valuable final project lesson.

“It’s been a reflection of the real world” of housing planning, said Zhu, one of four members of the UC graduate student team (two city planning students, two architectural students) that worked up plans for two housing complexes, plus other amenities, in Moraga Canyon, on the northern tip of the city. “We worked through all the various steps,” including designing multifamily housing on “challenging topography,” incorporating existing city uses and developing a potential funding plan.

In a sense, the Boyce Studio exercise will be educational for city staffers like Kevin Jackson, too.

“It introduces some of the things we need to think about when we introduce the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan,” said Jackson, Piedmont’s director of planning and building. Seeing the work the grad students did, Jackson added, “gets our people’s creative juices flowing, gets them thinking about how city facilities can be built in Moraga Canyon as something that’s truly part of the community.”

The four grad students — Zhu, Sam Greenberg, Yizhuang Liu and Brittaney Bluel accompanied by their faculty lecturers and Piedmont residents Claire Parisa (city planning) and Tomas McKay (architecture) – made their formal project presentation to the Piedmont City Council Monday. The presentation included visual depictions of a 103-unit affordable-housing apartment project at what is now Blair Park, and a 30-unit market-rate condominium development on the other side of Moraga Avenue.

Claire Parisa, a faculty lecturer with the UC Berkeley James R. Boyce Affordable Housing Studio program, introduces the student team’s presentation to the City Council Monday night.

The city is just beginning work on the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan, as part of a larger overall effort to adhere to a state mandate to plan for accommodating 587 new residences in the city by 2031. That work is the main driver for creation of the city’s Sixth Cycle Housing Element document. 

This four-student team was one of three to develop plans for the siting, architectural design and financing of affordable housing for the 18-acre Moraga Specific Plan area. In January, city planning officials hosted a visit by the grad students. A “juried review” of the three plans gave the team including Zhu the nod.

In the interest of preserving existing uses in the canyon, and meshing these plans with surrounding existing neighborhoods, the grad students’ proposal also included expanding Coaches Field, opening an early childhood education center, creating a dog park, installing sidewalks and bike lanes and improving the existing Spring Path connecting up to the Maxwelton neighborhood.

One slide from the formal presentation on Monday night. (View the full slideshow HERE)

Before Monday’s meeting, Parisa — a member of the Piedmont Racial Equity Campaign —  said, “For our students, this has been a fantastic learning experience. From the city side, the idea is to see what’s within the realm of possibility.” Almost every area Boyce Studio students have studied and created plans for has eventually hosted new housing development, Parisa said, but the specific projects and designs the students offer likely won’t end up being built.

“This is all very ‘conceptual,’” she said.

But the concepts are a jumping-off place for city planners. And Monday night, City Council members were excited by the possibilities the grad students presented. Mayor Jen Cavenaugh said she had hoped to see a vision for that area, but that the council got much more than that Monday. Councilwoman Betsy Smegal Andersen praised the varying designs of the individual apartment buildings in the students’ plan, required by the uneven slopes and other topography of the canyon. 

Councilwoman Jennifer Long added, “You all really captured the spirit of what we’re trying to accomplish” in the Moraga Canyon area.

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2 thoughts on “Cal grad students present vision for Moraga Canyon housing at Monday’s City Council meeting

  1. Dear Exedra,

    The UC Berkeley’s James R. Boyce Affordable Housing Studio presentation is a well thought out, very creative solution for Piedmont’s obligation and commitment to build affordable housing in town. I think this will stimulate much needed, positive discussion about the Moraga Canyon design and the long term City Master Plan. Thank you all.

    What would the plan look like if you integrated the new open space and public park space with Coaches Field? How would the road and transportation corridor look if you were given the time and challenge of changing the traffic function, speed, safety and general livability on Moraga Avenue?

    Lastly, has the Boyce Studio seen or studied the integration of teacher or City employee housing with your planning processes?

    What opportunities might these new parameters offer to the “look and feel” of your designs?

    Thank you all for your fine work!

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