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How biomimicry inspired the design of the San Francisco Museum at the Mint

July 26, 2013

Thanks to Paul Woolford, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP BD+C, design director in HOK’s San Francisco office, for this post describing the vision for the San Francisco Museum at the Mint adaptive reuse project, which will be one of the country’s most environmentally innovative museums.


This once was a working metal factory that produced gold and silver bars and coins. There also was a public function where people exchanged gold or silver dust for coins and bars.

To organize the building program, we swept away all the unfortunate interventions that had altered the building since the federal government stopped using it as a mint in the 1930s. To understand how the renovated building should function, we looked back to how Alfred Mullett, the original architect, had organized the public and factory spaces.

We approached the renovation design as a model for sustainable innovation. Our design calls for a net zero energy and zero water building.

We proposed a radiant heating and cooling system to either go under the historic floors or beneath a shallow floor floating above them. This system allowed us to only condition spaces that people occupy: the first seven feet.

We have started design development for the gallery prototypes. We are working with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the analysis and design of these gallery spaces, which will be naturally illuminated and ventilated.

With the exception of what is required to heat and cool water for the radiant system, the design uses almost no mechanical fans. The only electrical lighting system needed in daytime hours is for spotlighting specific exhibits.

Inspired by Biomimicry

When the city was founded in the 19th century, the San Francisco Bay’s edge and marshland area were just a few hundred feet from where the historic Old Mint building sits today. We suggested a design idea that incorporates lessons from the local biome while creating new ways to collect and store water.

Read the full post at Life at HOK. 



About the Author: John Gilmore brings the story of HOK to life for the world, literally. As a senior writer based in St. Louis, his words shine an intelligent light on the people, projects and experiences of the firm on the web, in print and in speeches given all over the globe. More posts by John Gilmore.


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