In with the new
Reinventing the interiors of San Francisco's landmarks
Ron Nyren -- Interior Design, 3/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
The very same historic review board that fights to preserve the facade of a beaux arts building may be considerably more flexible about what happens inside. "People tend to think about urban design in terms of exteriors," says Stephen J. Farneth, principal of San Francisco firm Architectural Resources Group. "There's more understanding that interiors have not just aesthetic issues but also technical and programmatic ones."
That opens up the range of choices for adaptive reuse. "You can have a collision between styles, a conversation, or a whisper," says Cathy Simon, president and CEO of Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris. Her firm, Baldauf Catton von Eckartsberg Architects, and Page & Turnbull are renovating the Ferry Building, a beaux arts ferry terminal on San Francisco Bay. The 1898 building's iconic status immediately ruled out the "collision" end of the spectrum.
Simon calls the Ferry Building's transformation into a mixed-use facility—with public space, offices, and a market hall in addition to improved ferry access—a "combination of a whisper and a conversation." Elements span the past century. "The passage of time has meaning," she emphasizes. "It's not 1898 anymore."
The current plan restores elements obscured or obliterated by a 1950s remodel. In the building's historic 660-foot-long skylit nave, on the second level, clearly contemporary glass-and-steel bridges and railings don't interfere with a reading of the original space. According to principal Hans Baldauf, the question was: "How do you complete the building rather than stress the contrast?" The architects got radical by cutting two large holes in the second level's original mosaic floor. This allows people on the ground level, now the main public area, to appreciate the nave—as California's Office of Historic Preservation and the National Park Service conceded after a lengthy review.
Turning the city's beaux arts Main Library into the Asian Art Museum meant inserting a completely different use into the 1917 structure. New elements therefore announce their newness. In association with Gae Aulenti, the U.S. firms Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Lda Architects, and Robert B. Wong Architects/Planners restored the entrance, grand staircase, loggia, and great hall. Meanwhile, the three firms revamped former light wells as an enclosed "piazza," with two long V-shape skylights, and replaced the loggia's 1930s murals with openings to the skylit areas. The move brought in sunlight but angered some preservationists, even though the murals were not original to the building and will be displayed elsewhere.
We tend to think about preservation in terms of materials, details, and structure, but it can sometimes be about sense of space. This may be why the stylistic collision at the proposed Jewish Museum San Francisco works. The design, by Studio Daniel Libeskind with Gordon H Chong & Partners, inserts a highly contemporary form into a 1907 Willis Jefferson Polk power substation in Yerba Buena Gardens. The elegant south facade will remain, but the industrial interior—whose main features included walls of brick and terra-cotta, a skylight, and steel trusses—was originally intended for machinery, not human beings. The Libeskind-Chong plan introduces such amenities as a gift shop and café but leaves the impressive sweep of the interior volume unobstructed.
In converting a 1950s bus garage by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill into a Potrero Hill campus for the California College of Arts and Crafts, the challenge was again to make the building habitable without destroying its industrial character—tricky, with glass curtain walls on three sides. The answer turned out to be solar heat. "It allowed us to maintain the original building envelope, because we could provide the required heating cost-effectively without reglazing everything," explains Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects principal Marsha Maytum.
Preservation architects Carey & Company recently moved into a renovated 1908 firehouse in the financial district. A restored fire pole alludes to the building's past, as do walls showing scars left by gas lines. Furniture is contemporary. As principal Alice Carey says, "Whatever was attached, we kept in line with the period. If you turned the firehouse upside down, what fell out would be new."
Ultimately, the interaction between past and present—whether whisper or collision—makes for richer, more dynamic interiors.
The 1917 great hall at the Asian Art Museum, formerly the city's Main Library.
The museum's "piazza," with its steel-framed skylights.
A 1950s bus garage, now the California College of Arts and Crafts.
Leddy Maytum Stacy's design for the college.
An original copper-clad door at Carey & Company's renovated 1908 firehouse.
The fire pole remains. At the 1898 Ferry Building, the second level's 660-foot-long nave is now open to the level below.