A Modernized Entry Celebrates the Existing Brutalist Structure

One Embarcadero, Gensler, interior, Metamorphosis Awards

Designed and built between 1968 and 1983 by notable futurist John Portman, the Embarcadero Centers in San Francisco were a jewel of the “city within a city” movement. Albeit groundbreaking at the time, the towers struggle to meet the demands of the city’s current market. Gensler and its team were tasked with modernizing the entry and providing security for the existing office building, which sits within a three-level retail podium. Because the existing entry was hidden behind a pair of retail escalators, the project scope was expanded to facilitate pedestrian circulation and create a gracious entry space for tenants and visitors.

Gensler’s innovative design solution earned it an Honorable Mention in the Interior category of retrofit’s Metamorphosis Awards.

BEFORE PHOTOS and ILLUSTRATION: Gensler; AFTER PHOTOS: Joe Fletcher

Gensler’s goal was to utilize the existing structure as much as possible and provide critical improvements to the user experience. The obscured office lobby was exposed by removing the pair of escalators. The new clear line of sight to the tower’s reception desk helps to mitigate common visitor confusion. Doubling the lobby’s area alleviates visitors and tenant traffic, reinforces building security and provides a comfortable waiting area for visitors. The dark metal “sleeve” creates a powerful visual connection through the building. Also, it allows access to daylight on both sides of the tower, making the lobby feel elegant and graceful.

In contrast, a glowing veil of white concrete ribbons drapes over the existing Brutalist structure. Developed in collaboration with fabricators Concreteworks, the twisting forms of the glass-fiber-reinforced concrete strands that form the integral bench were designed and developed through computational modeling. Each form was studied in virtual reality and through a series of full-scale mock-ups. The 250 individually cast ribbons stand 1-inch apart from each other, creating a transparent layer through which to view the original fluted concrete core and super structure. Rather than burying the existing Brutalist core, it is now the backdrop for a veil of dynamic white ribbons that create an area of repose.

Retrofit Team

ARCHITECT and METAMORPHOSIS AWARDS WINNER: Gensler

  • Doug Zucker, principal in charge
  • Batya Keshet, design lead
  • Craig Slavsky, design manager
  • John Bender, senior project architect
  • Luda Hoe, project architect
  • Caroline Duncan, designer
  • Jin Peng, designer
  • Alan Sinclair, graphics/signage

GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co.

CUSTOM CONCRETE RIBBONS AND PANELS: Concreteworks

GLASS CURTAINWALL SUBCONTRACTOR: Novum

MILLWORK: Design Workshops

Materials

END GRAIN OAK FLOORING: Kaswell Flooring Systems

CUSTOM BLACK EPOXY TERRAZZO: Associated Terrazzo

CUSTOM ACID-ETCHED BLACK MIRRORED GLASS CLADDING AND 1-INCH-THICK ACID- ETCHED AMBER-COLORED GLASS (Security Desk): McGrory Glass

DOLOMITE WHITE MARBLE, SLABS AND TILE FLOORING (Elevator Lobby Walls/Floor): DaVinci Marble

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