A 100-year-old Building, Featuring Salvaged Wood, Provides Context for an Artist’s Creations

Alcatraz Photography Studio, Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, Metamorphosis Awards

The client, Richard Mirach, is an artist who is an internationally acclaimed photographer. His work is monumental in scale and content, navigating topics that are political and aesthetic. His art is collected and exhibited by museums worldwide. The Alcatraz Photography Studio (named for its location’s view of the famous island) in Berkeley, Calif., provides the artist with a space within which he can design and mock up full-scale exhibit layouts with museum-quality lighting.

The original building’s function and year of construction are lost to history; it appears about a century old. When Misrach purchased the property, it was being used as a costume store whose rabbit-warren rooms, overflowing with inventory, obscured the structural system and materials of the original building. Transformed for its new purpose by Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, Berkeley, the project exposes and seismically upgrades the building’s masonry shell and gable roof. Eliminating an existing upper-floor structure, partition walls and old finishes enabled the creation of a lofty exhibit Gallery overlooked by a Mezzanine for ancillary work spaces.

AFTER PHOTOS: Billy Hustace Photography; BEFORE PHOTOS: Marcy Wong

PROGRAM

The project’s architectural layout follows rather than resists the building’s strong symmetry. Upon entrance from the street, one arrives into the Gallery whose axis is reinforced by continuous ridge skylights along the center-line of the room. The skylights softly diffuse natural light throughout the exhibit Gallery and Mezzanine. At the opposite end of the 2-story-high Gallery is a new stair—also centered on the ridge axis—leading to the Mezzanine.

The Mezzanine overlooks the main Gallery and contains an open office for staff and seating areas for visitors. Below the Mezzanine and beyond the Gallery are utility areas (bathroom, storage, kitchenette), a library, and a large table used for work and dining. At the rear wall is an existing door opening, leading to an urban garden.

MATERIALS

The materials used for the project’s architectural elements, flooring and furniture make use of much of the wood salvaged from deconstructing parts of the original building. This use of recycled and local materials not only embraces the many positive characteristics of wood, including low embodied energy, low carbon impact and sustainability, but also helps achieve the architectural sensibility that the client and architect envisioned. Recycled wood, existing unreinforced brick, and new steel braces for seismic upgrade form the palette of architectural and structural materials in the project.

The structure is exposed to create a spatially dramatic context for the exhibited art while not visually overwhelming it. The welcoming nature of the spaces is in marked contrast to the subject matter of the artist’s work. For example, a recent exhibit mockup consisted of photography that documented environmental ravages resulting from industrialization, natural disasters, petrochemical manufacturing and weapons testing. This juxtaposition of the Gallery’s architectural ambiance and the art’s unflinching depictions of reality is striking.

RECYCLE | RESTORE | REUSE | RENEW

A notable aspect of this project is the extent to which the materials used for the construction of the architectural elements, flooring and furniture are salvaged wood; in many cases, harvested while deconstructing parts of the original building. The project exploits the recycled wood for the ground- level flooring material, for framing and flooring of the Mezzanine, as well as for heavy-timber for the stairs. Of note are the new wood trusses, which enhanced by a series of ridge skylights, softly diffuse natural light throughout the space. Because most of the wood is salvaged and recycled from the original construction, there are no manufactured finished wood products. The old wood flooring has been sanded, cleaned and refinished.

STRUCTURAL SYSTEM

The original building was a modest gable-roofed “shoebox” of unreinforced brick masonry (URM) walls, a wood second floor and wood roof structure, constructed in the first half of the 20th century. The original URM walls’ structural resistance to earthquakes was woefully inadequate; whatever seismic value existed from that construction was reliant upon what the intermediate floor and roof could provide. The following was done to strengthen the shell:

  • Internally exposed steel framing and bracing were installed in the planes of URM walls.
  • Structural shear diaphragms were provided at the new Mezzanine and the existing roof.

The wood-framed Mezzanine built using wood salvaged from the deconstruction of the original building provides functional floor area and an intermediate-height shear diaphragm with steel braces, working with the wood structure to form a hybrid structural system.

The structural engineer determined the salvaged wood was, in fact, recycled wood that was harvested from the building itself. There was no visible damage and/or degradation (termites, dry-rot, etc.). It was calculated that the “2- by 8-” salvaged wood joists had enough strength and stiffness to support the Mezzanine loads. (The actual dimensions of the members were full-dimensioned, predating modern sizes.)

FINISHES

Wood is the dominant material in the roof structural system (trusses and shear diaphragm), as well as in the newly constructed Mezzanine and recycled wood stair. The fir and redwood materials salvaged from the original building are about a century old. They are beautiful as exposed finishes—retained by design as a testament to the endurance of wood.

The original wood flooring presented an opportunity—recognized by the owner—for enriching the rejuvenated character of the space. A simple treatment to the floor was executed, using non-toxic floor cleaner and finish products. Misrach observes: “The wood floor is full of amazing colors, subtle and strong from years of paint drips to the recent random reconfiguration from re-installation. It has a unique character, a history, that seems to only need being mopped or washed well and then finished. This is quite unique and beautiful … .”

RETROFIT TEAM

ARCHITECT and METAMORPHOSIS AWARDS WINNER: Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, Berkeley, Calif.

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Gregory P. Luth & Associates Inc., Santa Clara, Calif.

GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Gold Spring Construction Co., Oakland, Calif., (510) 238-8388

LIGHTING DESIGNER: Architecture & Light, San Francisco

MILLWORK CONTRACTOR: Ross Craig, Oakland

HVAC DESIGN BUILD: Harry Clark Plumbing and Heating Inc., Oakland

MATERIALS

LAVATORIES, WATER CLOSETS: Toto

POCKET DOOR HARDWARE: Emtek

SKYLIGHTS: Skylight & Sun

BRICK SURFACE SEALANT: Xypex

LIGHTING CONTROLS, DIMMERS: Lutron

LED LAMPS FOR ART LIGHTING: Soraa

TRACK-MOUNTED LIGHTING: Lightolier

LOW-VOLTAGE LIGHTING: WAC Lighting

UPLIGHTING GALLERY CEILING: Ecosense

SUSPENDED INCANDESCENT LAMP: IKEA

GOOSENECK WALL-MOUNT LED LIGHTING: TMS Lighting Inc.

SURFACE-MOUNT LINEAR LED: Lithonia Lighting

SUSPENDED JELLY JAR PENDANT: Stonco

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