It’s been described variously as a cave dwelling, a wizard’s house, an Italian hill town, Petra and a Moorish palace. It’s been called La Fortalezza, El Jardin and, simply, Telegraph Haste Student Housing. Finally, after sitting vacant for several decades, and after a long-running battle with the city of Berkeley, the lot known as 2501-2509 Haste St. is now occupied by an eclectic, mixed-use building named Enclave Dormitories, which is under construction and set to open for graduate student housing in the fall of 2020. 

The building’s distinctive façade, which was unveiled last week after its scaffolding was dismantled, is causing a stir, with passers-by stopping to gawk and take photos, and others taking to Twitter to share their reactions.

“People will be talking about [the building] a year from now. They’re not going to stop talking about it. Everyone who walks down the street will have an opinion,” Ken Sarachan told Berkeleyside. Sarachan, the owner of Rasputin Records, bought the empty lot in 1994 but has since sold it, and he was the one who commissioned the original design for the current building.

Kirk Peterson, the first architect on the project, did his first drawings for Sarachan nearly 20 years ago, but he has nothing good to say about the completed building now. According to Peterson, one of Sarachan’s ideas was to create a building that looked like a wizard had built it. Another concept was to build something that resembled an indigenous shelter, which would be accompanied by a grand narrative about the history of Berkeley. 

Peterson researched various influences for the project, including cave dwellings in the South of France, the architecture of Yemen, the Alhambra, Baroque churches in provincial Italy and the work of Julia Morgan. He synthesized these disparate ideas into a concept resembling an Italian hill town, a settlement built upon a hill and surrounded by cliffs or walls for protection. His final design included a prehistoric bottom section that resembled a cliff topped by Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture. 

“I wanted to make art. I wanted to do a correct, authentic, historicist building. Now it looks like crap. It looks god-awful.” — Original architect Kirk Peterson

“I wanted to make art. I wanted to do a correct, authentic, historicist building,” says Peterson. “Now it looks like crap. It looks god-awful.”

The Telegraph Haste housing project changed hands several times as a result of chronic legal and permitting issues with Berkeley’s City Council. In the process, Peterson was replaced by an Oakland-based firm, Jarvis Architects, who were then replaced by the current designers, LCA Architects, who work in partnership with West Builders, the developers who eventually bought the lot from Sarachan in 2018. 

“If all this had happened and the building was beautiful, I could find joy. But it isn’t,” continued Peterson. He cites proportional issues with the arches on the ground floor, the lack of attention to the detailing of the moldings and the artificial quality of the rock work on the base of the building. “I’m not even sure if the cliff is Disneyland quality. It looks really fake. It looks really phony,” he says.  

Others echo Peterson in their distaste for the building’s aesthetics.

“There are like a million different memes on our Berkeley memes page making fun of the fact that it’s ugly,” Hannah Raslan, a UC Berkeley undergraduate in global studies, said recently as she peered up at Enclave Dormitories. “It’s a horrible work of architecture. I just don’t think it fits the vibe of Berkeley.” (Berkeleyside requested to join the Facebook memes page, but hadn’t been approved before the publication of this article.)

Others, however, find the Enclave a welcome addition to the landscape of Telegraph Avenue. Laura Saimai, the manager of the Copy Central which is adjacent to the construction, said, “It’s an amazing façade and I’m very excited to have that next door. I think it’s very unique and it’s just going to enhance Telegraph Avenue. I think it’s beautiful.” 

“Telegraph is already an iconic street and it’ll be another landmark, another location for people to enjoy.” — Evan Romero, West Builders

Evan Romero, the traffic control supervisor for West Builders, says he likes the building he’s helping to make. “You have modern Berkeley inside the building and an older western rustic feel on the outside. I like it, it’s nice. Telegraph is already an iconic street and it’ll be another landmark, another location for people to enjoy.”

In terms of layout, the ground floor of the building will be retail space as per city standards. The builders hope to attract trendy stores and restaurants to the prime location, helping contribute to Telegraph’s vibrancy. Floors two to seven are student housing with a South-facing courtyard and a rooftop terrace with views of the bay. According to LCA Architects, the first three floors of the dormitory are finished and the team is on schedule for the building’s completion in mid-July. 

“Everyone said to me, ‘you can’t make this work.’ I was confident that we could build it, waterproof it, make it structurally sound, and pull it off to get it ready for the students,” says David Bogstad, president of LCA Architects. 

The seven-story, wood-frame structure is enhanced by details and ornamentation created through a collaboration with the City of Berkeley’s Civic Arts Program, which grants artists opportunities to create work for public projects. To make the rock face on the base of the building, artists and artisans carved and chiseled concrete as if it were an actual piece of granite and then hand-painted it. They also worked on tiling and light fixtures with Moorish themes, which will be finished by May or June. 

Bogstad said he likes that the structure is unique: “There are so many nondescript dorms in Berkeley. They are forms that are also seen in Southern California or Nevada. This doesn’t look the same. This is built in the context of expressionism of Berkeley.” 

Alfred Twu, a designer and a community activist, who took to Twitter to share his enthusiasm for the building after it was revealed, agrees. “One thing that makes this building unique is it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s nice to see something that has some fun,” he said.  

John King, the urban design critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, tweeted that the building appeared as a “Moorish-Tudor fever dream.” Speaking to Berkeleyside, he said, “So much of infill housing that we see across the street or behind it [on Telegraph] are boxes that have an interchangeable feel. To see this bizarre super-scaled whimsy is a nice change of pace.” 

Ugly or beautiful, the architecture of the Enclave is certainly having an impact. 

Guest contributor

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  1. What makes you think that Jesse had anything to do with the design? I have no idea of whether or not he likes it. Do you?
    Do you know the city process of approving buildings?

  2. Have you seen Wesley Center on Bancroft and Dana?
    ZAB and the Design Review Board don’t make very significant changes in the designs that are submitted. The problem is that few architects submit classical designs. I wish they did.

  3. I cant stop laughing. Berkeley ZAB only approves ugly buildings. Anything that follows classic architectural guidelines is immediately shot down as new-fascist, or non-progressive.

  4. No organic organisms were emulated in the building it’s Berkeley’s anti-Gaudi structure.

    Clumsy and heavy handed … that too. Looking forward to John King’s commentary

    That said … I like it … in a Game of Thrones – Myst – Flintstone – Cappadocia – Ronda – Troglodyte kind of way.

    I think it will age much more gracefully than Ace Architects’ creations which seemed dated before they were finished. The exterior of the Ace home on Hillcrest just west of Roanoke has been completely changed.

  5. Yes – that’s my plan … hope to do it in the next week or two.

    WIll also use my Tilt/Shift lens to eliminate as much facade distortion as I can

  6. Could you get a longer shot (half a block to a block away) of the Enclave Dorms? That’s where this building (literally) shines as you can see the golden topped minarets and domes.

  7. I agree completely. It’s so close to BART that it should have been a 6+ story apartment building, not another damned motel.

  8. Most seem to agree that this is at least better than our typical-of-late boring beige Berkeley boxes.
    At least someone had the balls to do something different for once.
    You listening, Trachtenberg?

  9. As far as it being ugly, at least it’s more interesting than the usual ugly buildings foisted on us by developers. Ticky tacky buildings cramming in as many units as possible.

  10. That’s pretty funny. I bet people start climbing it the minute it is open. Easier than driving all the way up to Indian Rock.

  11. Proof that capitalism is not a meritocracy.

    I am sure that there are people with no money whatsoever who have far more esthetic sense.

  12. We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us, said Winston Churchill in 1943. Thought of from this perspective this new fantastic castle is revolutionary. Living there could be a great adventure and the avenue might change. Imagine.

  13. That’s true. If I had to choose between this and the ugly boxy massive buildings popping up all around me, I would choose this one by default.

  14. Just went by to see it in person. The hand/foot-holds are numerous and go all the way down to the sidewalk. They’re gonna need a full-time guard to keep them off. I wonder what their plan is?

  15. I love it! I love its eccentricity, and if it looks cartoonish, all the better as I love cartoons. The Flintstones meets Telegraph Avenue. It is whimsical and Wonderland-ishly inspiring. I agree with Alfred Twu on this point, that buildings don’t need to all be deadly serious and conventional. We need more buildings that refuse to fit in. It’s this kind of healthy flair, creativity and eccentricity that Berkeley should celebrate, not virtue signalling, or streets full of RV dwellers or addicts.

  16. What can we expect, when the Architecture Dept lives in the most hideous building on campus? “It’s the Wurster!”

  17. Stunning.
    Yeah, most of our traveling was when we were young, brave, and really ignorant (again, not necessarily in that order).

  18. We made the rounds as poor newlyweds: Barcelona, then on to Granada, Seville, Cordoba, Malaga, Valencia… (not necessarily in that order)… some awesome, some pretty subtle now.

  19. I find it reminiscent of Cappadocia, by way of Tatooine. I like its sense of whimsy and organic quality, as if it grew up out of the ground, though I think the midwestern looking shutters on some of the windows are a bit jarring visually.

  20. I would blame the perp for such behavior, but others may think I am making such people into scapegoats.

  21. Having seen plenty of real Moorish architecture, this building is a cartoonish, amateur attempt at something….


  22. I love Gaudi and Hundertwasser, and I like this. For all those complaining, are you *sure* you’d rather have another deadly boring beige box? This is supposed to be Berzerkeley, land of free thinking and social experimentation.

    In 20yr, it’ll be considered a beloved piece of local color and quirkiness.

  23. It looks like they excavated some ancient site and uncovered ruins from several different civilizations.

  24. Doesn’t seem Moorish but Romanesque Italian + Neanderthal Cave Chic. Thank GOD it’s not bland. Reminds me of Normandy Village in spirit if not in exact form.

  25. This is no surprise. It looks exactly like what got approved 1.5 years ago. We should really start to re-think who gets to be on that zoning board.
    Personally I think the top part looks pretty interesting. The cave-like facade on the bottom third…well, is there a stronger word than hideous? It looks like two different buildings: ugly old work pants on the bottom and a ballgown on top.

  26. At least the rock outcroppings have interesting colors and variations. Nice to see something different. Hopefully they do some landscaping that works with the theme. Vines hanging over the edge of the roof deck, etc. I’m interested in seeing the interior once completed.

  27. Building that facade was a condition of the sale from Sarachan. The developer didn’t want to build it because of the cost and complexity but had to do so contractually.

  28. When I saw the “Moorish” headline, I thought it was referring to the interesting Middle Eastern-looking remodel of an old photography shop at Telegraph and Oregon. I’ve been watching its transformation and its dome, wondering what it is going to be. Does anyone know?

  29. Architectural kludge. The only positive thing I can say is that it blends in well and fits the overall character of the neighborhood, which may have helped with city approval. I’m worried that part of the facade rockery may break loose and kill a pedestrian. You’ve been warned.

  30. It seems that the original designer was, but something happened to squash that vision in bringing it to reality. More gaudy than Gaudi 🙁

  31. I like it. Fits right in with other unique and quirky Berkekey buildings which mimic a style of an earlier age, such as Normandie Village.

  32. Horrendous, extreme bad taste. I can believe the city approved this sh*t show design. It will surely make the list of the ugliest buildings in the world. Bravo Berkeley planning department!

  33. Center for Environmental Structure = Alexander
    College of Environmental Design = UCB

    Each of them thought the other was an A-hole.
    Each of them was right.

  34. One leases the building to the University, which rents to students which are rather central to their purpose.

  35. Honestly, my expectations are so low for this city I’m just impressed something is getting built. That said, I’ll get a wonderful chuckle each time I pass by. I mean, wow. Only in Berkeley.

  36. Like a lot of commenters here, I wanted to say something bad about the building. But there are so many boring styleless buildings out there that anything that has distinctiveness of any kind is a welcome variation.
    The rock work is very similar to Caltrans retaining walls, but we’ll all get used to it.
    It’s surprising that the developer who purchased the package stuck with the rock facade, etc. But I guess going through the permit process again would have been worse.
    The legacy of Ken Sarachan (Rasputin), will live on for another 100 years.

  37. For all the people who have been complaining over the years about boring boxes being built in Berkeley, you better not complain about this one. It’s far from perfect, but what is a perfect building?

  38. I drove by there the other day. It looks really weird.

    $100 says the faux-mud cladding (or whatever it is) is gone within 5 years, and replaced with something more pleasing to the eye.

  39. Do I like it? No. Looks like a failed opportunity to build a Hundertwasser.

    Do I appreciate it? Heck yeah.

    I am a fan of all new residential construction, period. But funky-ass architecture makes it all far more interesting. More, please! Even the stuff that fails to hit the mark (understanding that this is a purely subjective take) makes Berkeley more interesting.

  40. And why only three stories? The city approved a six-story development on a 13.5K- square-foot lot next to low-level houses. Seriously, are these buildings the product of the UC Architecture Department? We should be demanding better design.

  41. I like it insofar that we’re talking about it. I don’t love it but I’m happy to see a bit more quirkiness injected back into Telly, even the planned kind.

  42. OK, it looks like stack of discarded movie sets. Still, it’s a heck of a lot better than our standard characterless architectural boxes that look like they were designed by a cheap AI system to minimize costs.

  43. “I wanted to make art. I wanted to do a correct, authentic, historicist building. Now it looks like crap. It looks god-awful.” — Original architect Kirk Peterson

    He’s got that right.

  44. First choice for opening day entertainment: Green Day singing Rock the Casbah.
    Second choice: BANDALOOP aerial dance team.
    Third choice: Alex Honnold

    Fourth choice: Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator from Bay Street and/or Fisherman’s Wharf.

  45. “It is yet another example that shows California needs a goto source for better fake rock sculptors.”

    Here’s a guy who does a good job with fake rocks, but he’s apparently more influenced with the landscape around Kingman Arizona. I do like the idea of putting some tracks down and running a miniature Santa Fe Super Chief around it, that would be cool.

  46. There is a world-wide shortage of tan and turquoise Hardie board, so this one slipped through the cracks.

  47. Sure — better to have another tan and turquoise Hardie board box. Perhaps you should spend more time in Clayton or Union City?

  48. In Peterson’s initial design, those arches on the ground floor may have had more aesthetically pleasing proportions, but they were too small for storefronts and would not have worked in practice.

  49. I would like to see more pictures of it. How about a few of the interior and common areas? Is there a roof garden or a courtyard?

  50. The designer was obviously inspired by Gaudi,

    this building looks like a mod-podge of buildings I have seen in the Barcelona area.

  51. Is it perfect? No.
    Is it as nice as the renderings? No.
    Is it significantly better than the ticky-tacky glass and stucco boxes that keep popping up around town? YES!!!

    This was never going to be anything close to “authentic” and it’s silly for Kirk Peterson to pretend to think it was going to be and to criticize it on those grounds now. It is the “Disney” version of the idea which is all it was ever going to be. The only criticism I could level at it is that I wish there was some more depth and variation in the faux stone elements. Other than that it is delightfully anachronistic and a perfect tribute to Ken Sarachan’s legacy on Telegraph Avenue.

  52. I think the problem was Sarachan, not the city council. Remember the Berkeleyside article long ago, when Sarachan said that Peterson was not doing his job,and Peterson said that he did everything Sarachan had asked for? Everyone says that Sarachan is just impossible to work with, and I suspect that this got built at all only because Sarachan lost enough money that he had to sell it to developers building student housing for UC. If Sarachan didn’t need the money, he would probably still be unable to get along with anyone so this this lot would probably still be vacant, like the vacant former-Cody’s building across the street.

    “The Telegraph Haste housing project changed hands several times as a result of chronic legal and permitting issues with Berkeley’s City Council. In the process, Peterson was replaced by an Oakland-based firm, Jarvis Architects, who were then replaced by the current designers, LCA Architects, who work in partnership with West Builders, the developers who eventually bought the lot from Sarachan in 2018.”

  53. I’m with Alfred on this: It’s silly, but I like it. Especially in the Telegraph Ave. context.

    The underlying issue is the extent to which architects should be constrained by commissions and other public entities that impose their own aesthetic judgments. Much better to leave the architects free to express their art; only time will determine the real value.

  54. Weird but kind of charming. I just hope it’s well constructed underneath all those layers of thrown-together styles.

  55. It’s better than we usually get, though it would have been nice if they could have pulled it off.

    It’s yet another example that shows California needs a goto source for better fake rock sculptors. The roadside retaining wall folks in particular.

  56. Should satisfy all the complainers that complain about every building being boring and looking the same. Kudos for being adventurous.

  57. The renderings from project approval step were… much nicer. Yet it’s still good to have something unique.

  58. It’s too bad that many of the details are cheaply executed in this design. Glue-on tiles. Oulines where recesses should be. And the flower boxes…….in pastel colors……whoa.

    It could have been crazy and built with a suitable level of craft. Instead it’s crazy and cheap looking. Oh well….Opportunity lost. Design Review and ZAB must really be asleep at the wheel.

  59. I think it’s ugly too, but you know in 50 years people will perceive it as a special building emblematic of “quirky berkeley” that needs to be preserved. The list of buildings people hated when they were new and then became beloved as time went on is seemingly endless.

  60. Overall I like it. I am bothered by the four windows with the weird fake shutters. But it’s different and definitely not another Emeryville beige box.

  61. And now all those who continually complain that all new proposed buildings are the boring same old stuff will be able to complain that this isn’t the boring same old stuff.

  62. “The builders hope to attract trendy stores and restaurants…” Lotsa luck. In case they haven’t noticed, the businesses in that area are oriented towards students and teenagers – quick lunch restaurants. casual clothes on the cheap side etc. Plus, in case they haven’t noticed, there is a lot of “problematic street behavior” – a euphemism that some politician used several years ago. People who want to patronize trendy stores and restaurants go elsewhere.

  63. I like it! After years of a fenced off, rat infested, garbage filled, low property tax paying dump, this is a game changer. Looking forward to seeing more crazy designs in Berkeley….

  64. Real rock climbers don’t need “holds” glued onto walls, they make use of the opportunities the surface affords.

  65. certainly a conversation starter. and I disagree with the quote in the article – this is as Berkeley as it gets.

  66. I think it’s a little weird, but I kind of like weird. Hopefully it was constructed in a robust way so that there aren’t chunks of plaster/stucco/whatever falling off in five years or something. Maintenance would be my only concern.

  67. Architects are whiney little self-impressed people… Nothing ever lives up to the fantasies they had in their dreams. I know. I studied architecture (briefly) with Chris Alexander and his crew of merry lunatics at the Center for Environmental Design/UCB. This is as good a a fever dream gets… and saying that, this is actually quite good.

  68. If you left a three year old alone with some LEGOS and a piece of cake you would get something like that.

  69. Easy answer = because Peterson’s critique is accurate.

    “If all this had happened and the building was beautiful, I could find joy. But it isn’t,” continued Peterson. He cites proportional issues with the arches on the ground floor, the lack of attention to the detailing of the moldings and the artificial quality of the rock work on the base of the building. “I’m not even sure if the cliff is Disneyland quality. It looks really fake. It looks really phony,” he says.

  70. All they need are some colorful pieces of climbing-holds on the outside and students can relieve the stress of finals.

  71. Is it a jewel? Not even close. We asked for something different, though, and we got it. Probably shouldn’t complain. It replaced a rat-infested garbage hole, after all, and it will for sure bring tourists to the Ave.

  72. Yes, it is unique. And Twu is right, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Which, unfortunately, is exactly why some in our city will despise it. I’ll choose to ignore the perpetual sourpusses and enjoy that finally more housing has been built. Standing out.

  73. How could our vigilant city planners allow such a blatant FU Design? Who approved such a hideous building?

    The monstrosity of this design should bear a plaque proclaiming it to be a monument for our town’s planning commission.