Making Room for the Millenium

Rob Hochschild
June 11, 1998
Photo ©1997 Greg Premru
Photo ©1997 Greg Premru

With a nod to its past and an eye to the future, Berklee officially opened its Genko Uchida building in February. Calling it the "real capstone for the 50th anniversary of the college," Berklee president Lee Eliot Berk led a ceremony that celebrated both the building's practical advantages and its historical significance.

The 58,000-square-foot, $15-million building increases Berklee's educational and student-support space by nearly 20 percent, providing expanded educational facilities for the Guitar, Percussion, Piano, and Ensemble departments.

Jazz Composition chair Ken Pullig led a committee of about 35 faculty, staff, and students that began meeting in 1994 to determine how the new facility would address the campus's space needs. "Berklee has always been a place of great change and transformation, and this building is a wonderful continuation of that," Pullig said during the ceremony.
The Uchida building is the new home of the college's Student Affairs area, bringing together a range of student services that previously had been dispersed around campus.

"With more student services in one building, access is easier for all students," said vice president for Student Affairs/dean of students Larry Bethune. "The building also provides cutting-edge classrooms, a mid-size concert hall, more computers, and the best instrumental rooms at the college."

New Recital Hall Earns Rave Reviews

The most impressive room in the building is the David Friend Recital Hall, a semicircular performance space with a horseshoe-shaped balcony, designed by architect Shizuo Harada. According to building architect Myron Miller, Harada referred to the recital hall as "the typhoon room, a metaphor for Berklee's success in spinning out talented musicians around the whole world."

Named after the longtime Berklee trustee who recently donated $100,000 to the college, the Friend Recital Hall seats 160 people and uses a stage that can be moved to the center of the room, creating a performance-in-the-round environment.

"It's gorgeous and it's really geared toward acoustic music," said Vessela Stoyanova, a fourth-semester student from Bulgaria majoring in performance and film scoring. "The room has a very natural sound and works well for unamplified instruments."

The same sensitivity to acoustics that informed the plans for the Uchida building's performance space was put to use in all aspects of the building's design. Floating ceilings and double walls keep sound from traveling from room to room and floor to floor; even the duct work is acoustically lined to prevent music from leaking through heating vents. In the recital hall, the ventilation system was designed to prevent unwanted accompaniment from blowers.

For many students, such as percussionists, the building has opened up new possibilities for practice and study. "I couldn't believe it when I walked in and saw the percussion practice rooms," said Stoyanava, a marimba principal. "There's five big rooms for marimba, and each one is set up with a mixer and recording equipment."

Other departments that enjoyed expansion included Piano, which received three new keyboard labs, and Guitar, which gained 11 guitar labs and ensemble rooms plus several private lesson rooms. In addition, the building's "classrooms of the future" are wired to the Berklee Learning Resources Network and are equipped with audio, MIDI and video projection capabilities.

Uchida: The International Connection

The roots of the Uchida building project date back to 1985, when Berklee faculty members first traveled to Japan to offer music clinics. Shortly after Japanese entrepreneur Genko Uchida learned of the Berklee in Japan program, he became a financial sponsor of it, initiating a long and fruitful philanthropic relationship with the college. His $1 million donation in 1991, the largest ever made to Berklee, was earmarked for constructing a new building. When Newbury College placed its facility, at 921 Boylston Street, on the market in 1994, Berklee had the financial backing to make the purchase.

"He had a genuine commitment to promoting international understanding and goodwill by bringing young people from America and Japan together," President Berk said of Uchida, who passed away in 1996.

It is fitting that Berklee's newest facility was supported by an international sponsor, considering that the college has attracted students from around the world since its founding in 1945. Japanese students comprise about 10 percent of the current student body, a trend that began in 1957 with Berklee's first Japanese student, Toshiko Akiyoshi. Berklee officials decided that the grand opening of the Uchida building would be the perfect time to pay tribute to the acclaimed pianist, composer and bandleader by giving her an honorary doctor of music degree. Akiyoshi's Berklee years are detailed in a related story.