Courtesy of Bruce Damonte
The 230,000-square-foot facility welcomes visitors to the grand market hall via three colossal, red portals and fully operable window walls along key facades to provide maximum porosity between the interior market hall and the surrounding pedestrian plazas and streets.

San Fran's Historic Building 12 Is at the Center of Industrial Revitalization

May 25, 2023
The renovation of a former shipbuilding facility is now a sustainable beacon at the heart of the city’s historic Pier 70 neighborhood.

There’s been a revival afoot in industrial architecture for years that may be more relevant now than ever, as efforts to combat climate change through the design of the built environment continue to ramp up. Rather than demolish historic manufacturing facilities, many developers like Brookfield Properties are preserving and renovating them to create more vital and sustainable neighborhoods.

Such was the case with Pier 70 in San Francisco, Calif., home to one of the largest industrial sites in the city. Pier 70 was a shipbuilding site during the Second World War. “The buildings on Pier 70 made up this sort of infrastructure that helped to streamline shipbuilding, and in its heyday during World War II, it was among the largest shipbuilding locations in the country,” said Ariane Fehrenkamp, senior project manager at Perkins&Will San Francisco. Brookfield hired the firm to lead the effort to restore one of the key buildings at the heart of the Port of San Francisco’s master plan for Pier 70: Building 12.

The ‘New Heart and Soul of the Neighborhood’

After the shipbuilding industry had all but vacated the city in the 1970s and 1980s, Building 12 was abandoned, along with most of the other structures on the pier. “Most of these buildings had fallen into a state of disrepair,” Fehrenkamp recalled. “There were a few that were still functioning, but for the most part, these historic buildings were just decrepit and dangerous, and so they were boarded up and barbed wired.”

Perkins&Will re-envisioned Building 12 as a vibrant community gathering and event space that is integral and connected to the landscape and historic nature of the overall site. In keeping with its historic use, the future Building 12 experience will be a celebration of local making and manufacturing that engages the public in the process of manufacturing while providing retail opportunities and event space for public and private events.

[Related: Adaptive Reuse: The Greenest Building Strategy?]

The client “always called it the ‘heart and soul of the new neighborhood,’ so we took that to heart,” Fehrenkamp said. The design of the 230,000-square-foot facility welcomes visitors to the grand market hall via three colossal, red portals and fully operable window walls along key facades to provide maximum porosity between the interior market hall and the surrounding pedestrian plazas and streets.

“The goal is to have the market hall become the place where people in the neighborhood—if they’re working there or living there—they treat it like their living room,” Fehrenkamp explained. “They come and they have their coffee, they hang out, they socialize with other people, socialize with the vendors, the makers on the second level, even the office people on the third floor.”

A Big Lift for a Big Goal

Prior to the project’s launch, the Port of San Francisco and Brookfield Properties determined that the buildings within the Pier 70 neighborhood needed to address a 100-year projected sea level rise due to climate change, which presented an enormous challenge for the design team. If the entire site were simply regraded, the existing first floor of Building 12 would be nearly 10 feet below ground. As a result, the team decided to lift the building along with the site.

“Building 12 was originally 130,000 square feet, 2,100 tons, 240 feet wide by 240 feet long and 59 feet tall,” Fehrenkamp recalled. “So, [it was] a massive structure, and to lift it, we had to tie the column base together with these huge steel cribbing beams and then steel cable bracing […] across all the column bays. All of that was to hold the structure rigid while we lifted the building.”

Historic Building 12 Lift from Perkins&Will SF on Vimeo.

The original wood roof was in bad shape, having suffered years of water damage. The existing ground-level floor was slab on grade which would not be lifted. So, to prepare for lifting Building 12, temporary bracing beams were installed at the first-floor level and at the roof, the monitor window glass was removed, and new roof sheathing was installed to make the building rigid enough to prevent it from racking during the lift.

“Obviously, lifting the building was a big sustainable effort to make sure that it was prepared for climate change and sea level rise, but we also pushed for full electrification,” Fehrenkamp said. The LEED Gold-certified facility features all-electric HVAC, radiant heat flooring, a new high-performing curtain wall on the south side and a strategic insulation plan for the roof and walls that helped Building 12 exceed its required R-value for historic buildings despite the inefficient preservation of existing windows. To quantify environmental impact factors such as embodied carbon and perform lifecycle assessments, Perkins&Will used plug-ins for Autodesk Revit—mainly Tally but also One Click LCA. (Learn more about the firm's carbon embodied carbon accounting for Building 12 here.)

Past Meets Future

This blend of old and new required the project team to think about Building 12 as “pre-contextual,” according to Fehrenkamp. “There’s this historic context, but the whole neighborhood around it is not there yet,” she said. “It allowed us to consider both the past and also the future and think about the future residents and the workers who are going to be in this neighborhood.”

In spite of its irregularities and challenges, Building 12 is ready to witness the future unfold while holding on to its illustrious past.

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