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Collected Memories of Evans Hall

Berkeley’s Evans Hall is unmitigatably ugly, inside and out, even at a great distance; to the discerning student, Evans is the ugliest structure on campus. Last week The Daily Californian reported it’s to be demolished as part of the University’s 2021 Long Range Development Plan.

This news is a long time coming. As the Daily Californian and SFGATE articles discuss, Evans has been widely disliked since it was built to Gardner Dailey’s design in 1971. The University floated a proposal to demolish Evans, and build a complex of low buildings on the site, in 2000; they punted that decision, citing budgetary constraints and a long line of competing seismic priorities.1 Now Evans is on the docket again: it’s just unacceptably bad to look at.

This perspective is true, but it elides a deeper reading of the value in buildings. There’s a sort of memory in Evans Hall itself: of institutional dehumanization; of the studentry’s miniature ingenuity; of milestones, and major pests, in computer science; and of love (yes, even in Evans).

Always the best primer for a UC Berkeley building, The Loafer’s Guide notes Evans Hall’s

main stairwell balcony that faces a concrete wall, eye level with a bare fluorescent light fixture. This building, Davis, and Wurster are Neobrutalist, derived from the French word for “exposed concrete.” Before its completion, the Daily Cal printed an editorial entitled “Love can’t live in an ugly temple.” In addition to design and mechanical problems beginning Day 1 at “Fort Evans,” students began to paint and otherwise “adapt” the building. The “Death of Archimedes” and other unsanctioned artworks are worth checking out.2

John Rhodes, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, remembers those “unsanctioned artworks” as a kind of antifascist gesture. The department was moved into Evans Hall in 1971, the year it was completed. Striving to do creative work, they felt consigned to a building so austere Rhodes found it dehumanizing.

Sometime after this seminar [on creativity in mathemtatics], I organized a one-hour talk in 60 Evans by an assistant professor in the architecture department entitled Fascism and Architecture, being as Evans Hall was despised by many as a dehumanizing workplace. The subject of the talk was the effect of architecture on politics and the spirit. I remember the speaker showed slides of Hitler waving to crowds from the balcony of buildings in Berlin.

After the applause abated at the end of this well-received talk, I passed out paintbrushes and paint cans. Even Sarah Hallam (senior administrative assistant of the Department for many, many years) grabbed a paintbrush. We rushed upstairs and painted some of the walls on the 7th to 10th floors.

Voilà! That’s how the “murals” got there. Some were painted by famous mathematicians — [William] Thurston and [Dennis] Sullivan. And I know La Mort de Galois on the 7th floor was painted by my son’s uncle, Jack Knutson. I thought perhaps some of you — young and old — might like to know the history of these paintings. I hope as many of them can be preserved as possible.3

The painting of Galois included here is dated December 1971; it may be La Mort de Galois, but I’m not sure. Sullivan also reports it was 1971.4 Remember, Evans was completed in ’71; the math department got mad fast. Sarah Hallam’s retirement in 19785 is a latest date. In any case, I’ll try to photograph these murals the next time I’m on campus.

Evans was only painted its current institutional grey-green in the late 1990s, part of a renovation to prevent “large pieces of concrete […] falling off the face of Evans Hall without warning” (yikes).6 Apocryphally, the color was selected to blend the towering blight into the hillside; in practice, this marks the building as a place of great aesthetic shame. Béton brut was better.

In 2002, shortly after the repainting, first-year architecture student Alfred Twu ran the Evans Hall Coloring Contest: entrants printed, then recolored, folding scale models of Evans. First and second place went to trompe l’oeil panoramas, braver (and more surreal) imaginings of the hidden-in-plain-sight grey-green. The competition’s a great example of lighthearted Berkeley creative initiative.7 All contest submissions and the vote tally are here.

L. K. Leong’s winning submission to the Evans Hall Coloring Contest (2002). A foreground trees in silhouette shade the walkway around Evans; behind them, low peaks (the Berkeley Hills?) blush orange.8
Tom Barber’s second-place submission to the Evans Hall Coloring Contest (2002). It appears to be a photo of Memorial Glade (the eastward view from Evans) stretched to gargantuan proportions.9

Of course, there’s more to Evans than its aesthetics. The departments it houses have astounding academic records; at work, I regularly use software spawned in its miserable greenish bowels. All that the comes from hardworking people, decades of students and academics, and the building is a testament to their experience inasmuch as they tell stories about its architecture.

The most elaborate such stories are in the CSUA Encyclopedia.10 Though it was written after the Computer Science Undergraduate Association’s relocation to Soda Hall, the Encyclopedia can’t disentangle the CSUA’s history and in-jokes from Evans itself.

Sometimes Evans was a nuisance:

Incantation to summon the elevator to the basement of Evans. Also, a means to subvert the security measures of Evans. Largely obsolete. Usually initiated from the tvi920c in the WEB print room.
In ye olden days, the public computers at Berkeley were grouped in two locations — in the WEB, located in the basement of Evans, and in E260, located on the second floor of Evans. The WEB was easilly accessible, but E260 was in an area of Evans which was locked in the evenings. Fortunately, the elevators on the south side of the building could be used to subvert the lackluster security measures; unfortunately, the elevators could not be called from the basement. elevatorP was initiated by students in the WEB to call out to their brethren in E260, and so summon elevators down to the WEB. Could also be used to gain access to the former CSUA office in E238.
Lock Collection
Holy CSUA artifacts. A set of locks rumored to have once adorned the secret north door of Evans Hall.
Little is recorded regarding how the Lock Collection might have come into existence, but according to quiet whispers, the north door of Evans might once have been a secret entrance to the hallowed lands of E260 and the CSUA office in E238. It has been suggested that, perhaps, if the lock on the north door went missing, it would have been easier for computer students to attain the computers of the second floor Evans, but archaelogical evidence is too scant to verify this. In all likelihood, the CSUA Lock Collection is actually composed of discarded locks and has no relation to this theory.
Three Evans Route
Secret path through the Evans Security Perimeter.
The administration tried very hard to maintain the Evans Security Barrier, manning the area with campus police and fixing the occasional mysteriously missing lock; one must given them credit for that. However, no one ever said they were very bright in their efforts. Take a case-in-point, the Three Evans Route.
Locked glass doors can be used to prevent student scum from entering the upper reaches of Evans without barring them from the twin nirvana of WEB and vending machines; no question about it. But, what if there were a room, say 3 Evans, which had two entrances, one on either side of these magic glass doors? If there were such a theoretical bone-headed design, it would be very simple to slip past the Perimeter, without having to wait for a doosher to notice the call of elevatorP.
Purely theoretical, and in any case the administration remembered to lock the outer Three Evans doors on occasion.

And sometimes Evans was a place to practice being a nuisance:

CSUA Bat (or CSUA Baseball Bat)
Holy CSUA artifact and the symbol of office for the Vice President. A black Louisville slugger, well-worn and loved. […] Particularly useful for obsoleting CRTs, gaining votes at politburo meetings, emphasizing points at general meetings, and hitting Evans to relieve stress (the last being its original purpose, according to rumors).
Fencing Club
Saber-rattling bunch of CS students nearly foiled by the UC police. Their motto: “don’t take a fence.”
Picking up fences and hauling them across campus is very funny. Explaining to UC police that you weren’t doing so is even funnier. Still funnier is getting a chain-link fence, dragging it through the Evans Security Perimeter, and then using it to block off the office of a beloved lecturer. Even the beloved lecturer will agree it’s as funny as anything, while plaintively asking that said chain-link fence please be removed.

And sometimes Evans was more than the sum of its nuisances. Deep in the CSUA Encyclopedia, in the “Poetry” entry, in a full-alphabet acrostick, there’s an extraordinary name.

i is for ikiru, Euphrasia Lavette Alzena Guri Scientia Ventura Ikiru; and then
j is for more ikiru, Alvera Ganbatte Gelasia Curvilinearjky… van Bezooijen

ikiru pased away in 2011. She took the additional “van Bezooijen” when she married Eric van Bezooijen (CSUA Encyclopedia contributor) in 1997. Eric’s eulogy for Euphrasia paints a brilliant and complicated picture, though reading it feels uncomfortably like an intrusion on something personal: “I could spend all day telling you the things she gave me.”

“How did I meet Euphrasia? We met in the early 1990s in Evans Hall room 260, a UC Berkeley computer lab, not the most romantic of all places.”

Actually, I think this captures the romance of architectural memory. Our common architectural referent — Evans — makes Eric and Euphrasia real, makes their experience seem immediate. Locating Eric’s story sets up an exchange of meanings: it marks Evans 260 as a place, in Marc Augé’s sense.11 That means, in turn, Evans 260’s existence testifies to the reality of their experience. The place is an encounter between us, now, and them, then.

Moreover, Evans’s architectural memory is alive; students are still groaning about the green-grey, about the slow elevators, about the hulking blight. Evans isn’t a museum of the work that was done there; it’s a place to take part in the continuation of that work, to participate (even in some miniscule way) in the history that is the very basis for this memory.

Of course, participation means imagining something better. Working in Evans Hall every day made me unahppy, and would make me unhappy again. The University’s plan to raze Evans Hall is even older than the Coloring Contest plans to dress it up as nature. They’re right to prioritize current and future academics over campus history: UC Berkeley isn’t a museum, it’s a workplace.

One shouldn’t desperately conserve miserable places, but one should read buildings — beyond their aesthetics and functionality — for what they remember: our collective memory, in architecture.

  1. Keller, Josh. “No Stirrings of Pride” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. (2007).↩︎

  2. Dougherty, Carolyn. “The Existing Campus” in The Loafer’s Guide to UC Berkeley.↩︎

  3. Rhodes, John. “A History of the Murals in Evans Hall” in Berkeley Mathematics Newsletter, Fall 2002 Vol. IX, No. 1. (2002)↩︎

  4. Mosher, Lee and Bill Casselman. “What is… A Train Track?” in Notices of the AMS, Vol. 50, No. 3. (2003). According to Thurston, the mural-painting continued — over administrative protestation — after Rhodes’s start:

    Last fall Sullivan wrote to Mosher: “In 1971 I was a guest of the University of California giving lectures in the Math Dept. At the same time there was a confrontation between the trustees and the graduate students et al. The latter planned to continue decorating the walls of the department by painting attractive murals and the trustees forbade it. At tea some students came up and invited me to join their painting the next day. I became enthusiastic when one bearded fellow [Thurston] showed me an incredible drawing of an embedded curve in the triply punctured disk and asked if I thought this would be interesting to paint. I said, ‘You bet,’ and the next day we spent all afternoon doing it.


    Thurston wrote in a note to Mosher that the project “was in response to a little flurry with administration sanctions of some sort when John Rhodes painted the wall outside his office, I think with a political slogan related to one of the issues of the times (Vietnam war, invasion of Cambodia, People’s Park?).”

  5. Felde, Marie. “Hallam Bequest Benefits Math” in The Berkeleyan, March 13, 1996.

    There’s some disagreement: a departmental chronicle reports Hallam retired six years earlier, in 1972. Interestingly, it also reports she was hired half-time by Evans — the building’s namesake — in 1936, for a $400 salary. See Mathematics at Berkeley: A History by Calvin C. Moore (2007).↩︎

  6. Keller, Josh. “No Stirrings of Pride” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. (2007).↩︎

  7. The Evans Hall Coloring Contest is theoretically interesting. Using scale models as a means of participatory architecture would be right at home in Log 50: Model Behavior — and it would stand out. The authors are largely focused on one-off canonical models (the stuff of architecture exhibitions) or models as devices for iterative studio design, and they all reference the same Borges story and enumerate the issue-theme multi-entendre.

    The Evans Hall Coloring Contest’s paper models are cheaply reproduced, structurally simple, and accessible to nonprofessional participants.↩︎

  8. Twu, Alfred and contestants. Evans Hall Coloring Contest Winners. (2002).↩︎

  9. Twu, Alfred and contestants. Evans Hall Coloring Contest Winners. (2002).↩︎

  10. Appelcline, Shannon with pictures by Eric van Bezooijen. Welcome to soda.csua.berkeley.edu, Now Go Home! or When Geeks Collide. (1994).

    This is really a remarkable document; well worth the read if you have any affiliation with UC Berkeley Computer Science.↩︎

  11. See vaguely Augé, Marc. Non-places: Introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity. (1992).↩︎