When Perkins+Will was selected to rehabilitate and adaptively reuse San Francisco’s historic Presidio Landmark in 2004, it never occurred to Andrew Wolfram, AIA, LEED AP, that it would take another six years for the project to be completed.
“As architects, we are always willing to keep going no matter what,” said Wolfram, the San Francisco-based preservation and reuse global leader for the firm, said. “But I was impressed the owner didn’t show more frustration. The project was first established in 2002, so I was surprised they had the staying power.”
Presidio Trust and Forest City Development own the site, located in a 36-acre revitalized district in a national park. When the project was first awarded to the public-private partnership almost a decade ago, area residents were not shy about showing their disapproval.
“The neighbors living next to the building were opposed to the project from the very beginning,” said Presidio Trust’s Chandler McCoy. “Because the building had been vacant for 25 years, they were used to having no traffic on their streets. Rehabilitating the building into marketable apartments would obviously create more traffic.”
Originally built in 1932 by U.S Treasury architect James Wetmore, the six-story Colonial-revival facility served as a Public Health Service hospital, hosting research on plague diseases, sanitation, water supply, and sewage disposal. In the 1950s, two six-story, stylistically incompatible wings were added to the existing complex. The building was shuttered in 1981 and sat vacant until the early millennium.
“There were a lot of vagrants living there and a lot of graffiti on the walls,” Wolfram said. “A lot of the infrastructure was damaged.” Despite public concern about increased traffic, the developer made the case that local residents would actually benefit from project.
“The public meetings helped us understand the nature of the opposition,” McCoy said. Public feedback led to demolition of the unsightly 1950s additions. “The removal of the wings made the project less profitable by removing square footage, so to compensate, we were allowed to build three additional stories on the back of the existing building and a new freestanding building.”
Through a series of public workshops, the Building Team, which also included Nabih Youssef + Associates (structural engineer), Donald F. Dickerson Associates (MEP engineer), and Plant Construction (GC), worked with the neighboring residents to establish an appropriate design plan for the building and site, which included trails and park access, and convincing them that the project would be a boon in the long run.
Double-loaded corridors, too many doors, large window spaces—these and other relics of the building’s past made for a difficult design process when configuring the building for apartments.
“Because the building is shaped like an anchor, we ended up with really narrow hallways,” Wolfram said. “To deal with the odd shape and space, we had to go with 32 different layouts for the apartments.”
Each room figures like a piece of a puzzle, some wide and square, others long and narrow. This became a selling point to prospective tenants, Wolfram said. “Since every part of the building has a different layout, a person living in one end of the building doesn’t have the same layout as someone living at the other end.” Wood floors, contemporary light fixtures, a rehabilitated entry lobby and front desk, a new lounge and fireplace, a fitness center, a wine cellar, and a yoga room gave the building a much-needed facelift.
“Since the building was designed as a public hospital, it never had a fancy lobby or high-end finishes,” McCoy said. “The architects respected this simplicity and created a beautiful, restrained design that retains much of the historic feeling.”
Exterior brick, terra cotta, and limestone façades also were restored, and seismic and structural upgrades were administered to make the building sound. “We wanted seismic systems located in places between apartments to make them unnoticeable to residents,” Wolfram said. “We didn’t want to divide the building up in an awkward way.”
The Building Team planned for a natural infiltration system to handle the site’s groundwater, but the discovery of an unexpected seasonal stream nearly halted the project for good.
“We had to divert the stream,” Wolfram said, noting that quick thinking led the team to infrastructure already feeding into San Francisco’s citywide water and wastewater system. “It was just too much water to follow through with original plans, so we had to change how our drainage would be solved. We had to do a lot of discovery as we went along. We dug holes, repaired damaged pipes, and reworked a lot of the infrastructure that went into the city.”
Presidio Landmark, San Francisco, Calif.
Owner/developer: Presidio Trust, Forest City Development
Architect: Perkins+Will (submitting firm)
Interior architect: Shopworks
Structural engineer: Nabih Youssef + Associates
MEP engineer: Donald F. Dickerson Associates
General contractor: Plant Construction Company
Size: 220,000 gsf
Construction cost: Confidential at owner’s request
Construction period: October 2008 to September 2010
Delivery method: Negotiated contract
Great care was taken to respect the natural environment during construction, and since the building is located in a national park, respecting the native flora and fauna was a strict requirement. Following environmental regulations, the Building Team halted construction during bird nesting season and mitigated disturbance to a native quail population in the park.
Natural areas were restored. Courtyards, hiking and biking trails, and a scenic overlook were landscaped to encourage residents to interact with the environment around them.
“We really reestablished an expansive parklike setting,” Forest City Vice President Alexa Arena said. “We also preserved the nightscape with outdoor lighting at ground levels, creating a wonderful balance between environmental preservation and functionality for residents and neighbors.”
In addition to LEED Gold certification, the project also won a California Preservation Foundation’s 2011 Preservation Design Award, AIA San Francisco’s 2011 Honor Award, and the National Association of Home Builders’ 2011 Developer Award for best adaptive reuse—and, now, a Gold in the BD+C Reconstruction Awards.
“Building reuse is the ultimate form of recycling,” said Arena. “This project made for an exciting challenge, which promoted the project’s overall values of sustainability and restoration.”
Wolfram insists that the true value is seeing a derelict, underused building repurposed to serve future generations of San Franciscans. “It’s one of those projects that is just an incredible story of transformation and reinvention,” he said. “It’s so delightful to see it so grand and elegant and simple again.” +
Click here to view profiles of other reconstruction projects that have been recognized as part of BD+C's 28th Annual Reconstruction Awards.