Huntsman Architectural Group renovates a San Francisco building lobby to attract high-tech tenants.
Julia Lewis -- Interior Design, 2/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
NICKNAMED SOMA, the formerly industrial neighborhood located south of Market Street has long been the hub of San Francisco's infamous new media scene. Recently, however, this broadly defined industry has experienced a geographical shift. Escalating rents, limited space, and maturing corporate leaders, who desire more prestigious addresses and proximity to their lawyers and bankers, are among the factors that have caused companies to establish offices outside "multi-media gulch."
Having acquired 300 California Street, an eight-story building in the nearby financial district, Bay Area developers ATC Partners hoped to entice tech companies to venture across Market Street. However, the savvy partners understood that they would have to add some distinct character and hipness to the bland, boxy structure to lure new media moguls from their quirky converted warehouse spaces in SoMA. This being ATC's first project in the city, the developers felt it was imperative to engage an experienced firm; they called upon Huntsman Architectural Group, a 20-year-old San Francisco-based practice that has worked extensively on similar buildings in the area.
"The building was erected in the 1940s, renovated and added to during the 1950s, and then 'modernized' in the '80s," says Huntsman senior associate and spokesman Tim Murphy, who collaborated with design partner Mark Harbick and project manager Keith Turner. Consequently, the terra-cotta structure, now partially clad in granite, "had no identity or relationship with any design era." The architects' focus was to be on the lobby, which at some point had been clad almost entirely in travertine, creating a drab, nondescript space. ATC gave the Hunstman team license to "go overboard" on the lobby's redesign, which they considered a vital sales and marketing tool.
The façade's new frameless glass doors and custom glass and stainless-steel channel window establish a transparent membrane between the building's interior and exterior, and make the lobby's striking transformation visible from the street. Removing the lobby's travertine shell and expanding the space to 2,500 sq. ft., the architects selected an unexpected materials palette to create a dramatic, luminous volume.
A pair of sleek, illuminated glass walls flanks the entrance while the ceiling, columns, and one expanse of wall were stripped to expose the original board-formed concrete. Other walls are made of hot-rolled steel or saw-cut, bead-blasted shotcrete, while another is upholstered in kitschy channeled white vinyl and washed with blue light. Black terrazzo with a custom aggregate replaced the stone floor. "The materials create a high-low effect as highly refined surfaces, such as glass, meet kooky, 'low' effects, such as the vinyl-upholstered wall and terrazzo floor," says Murphy. Among the lobby's most eye-catching details is a red suspended ceiling that winds its way around the space and houses recessed lighting fixtures. The bright, abstract form is canted so that it is all the more visible from the street.
With its contemporary design and inventive layering of materials, the lobby's redesign has attracted not only tech tenants but also an interior architecture award from the San Francisco AIA.