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The Energy Foundation

San Francisco, California
TANNERHECHT Architecture

TannerHecht Architecture's new home for The Energy Foundation boldly underscores the nonprofit's mission

By Beth Broome

When the Energy Foundation, a partnership of philan-thropic investors that promotes clean-energy technolo-gies, outgrew its offices in a former military hospital on San Francisco's Presidio, it saw an opportunity to recreate its headquarters not only to accommodate its rapidly growing staff, but also to better reflect its mission. The organization's new home, designed by San Francisco-based TannerHecht Architecture, demonstrates a com-mitment to preservation while reflecting the foundation's progressive outlook through its extensive use of sustainable building strategies and technologies. It is the first project in the city to receive LEED Platinum for Commercial Interiors (CI) certification.

The Energy Foundation
Photo © Cesar Rubio Photography

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The appropriateness of the historic Bently Reserve building, for-merly the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, as the location for the Ener-gy Foundation’s offices was immediately apparent. Its downtown location, well served by mass transit, was appealing, as was the stately, Neoclassical-style 1924 building itself, which Bently Holdings purchased in 2005 and renovated with SmithGroup (which later became a tenant). The renova-tion achieved a LEED rating for the core and shell and, taking things a step further, the owners made LEED Silver a prerequisite for all leaseholders. Key elements of the design direction for the Energy Founda-tion’s offices emerged during the client and architects’ first walk-through of the raw, 17,600-square-foot fifth floor. While accommodating 25 private offices and 42 workstations, three conference rooms, a board-room, and informal gathering places, the space had to be contemporary but, as befits a nonprofit organization, not ostentatious. The clients also expressed a desire to celebrate the building’s past, emphasize contrasts, and keep the interior open to encourage collaboration while maximiz-ing daylighting and views.As a starting point, the team removed the gypsum board from the exterior walls, clear-sealing the original brick and the steel seismic reinforcement added in the 1980s. Forgoing insulation here was a choice of aesthetics over function, though like the original single-pane casement windows, which the building retained, it is a factor that is mitigated by San Francisco’s mild climate. A floor plan followed from the democratic decision to locate the boardroom on the northeast corner, which affords prized sliver views out to the bay. Private offices and assistant worksta-tions line the building’s perimeter, and the liberal use of glass partitions and walls carries daylight to the public spaces at the floor’s center.

Leaving the core virtually untouched (save painting and adding high-efficiency plumbing fixtures in the bathrooms) was another aesthetic as well as economic move. Like the decision to dispense with many finishes and leave ceilings, walls, structure, and much of the con-crete floor exposed, preserving this element realized significant cost sav-ings. Additionally, the core’s drywall surfaces, which serve as a reminder of the space’s previous life as law offices, terminate in most places at 9 feet, affording another glimpse of the building’s bones.Though the building’s minimum requirement for interior spaces is LEED Silver, the Energy Foundation set its sights higher. There were few-er decisions to make off the bat, points out David Hecht, AIA, principal in charge, because the base building air-conditioning and lighting-manage-ment systems were already in place. While specifying FSC-certified wood for cabinetry, doors, and furniture; recycled content carpet; Greenguard-certified workstations and chairs; recycled denim insulation for interior walls; and locally sourced materials and furniture, the architects were wary of the sometimes clichéd nature of green products. “We were trying not to be too granola,” says Hecht. “We wanted to have a good LEED project without seeing bamboo everywhere.” A boardroom table made of recycled Douglas fir and decommissioned photovoltaic panels manifests that goal, as do Aspen wood–fiber ceiling panels: floating sloped planes that provide sound absorption while directing daylight to the center of the space.

Thanks to the floor plan, interior clerestories, and glass partitions, 90 percent of regularly occupied spaces have direct sight lines to the large exterior windows. Daylight-harvesting systems use dimmable fluores-cents that employ photosensors to moderate output. Every work area also has its own thermostat for optimally conditioning each occupied space according to need (Bently’s engineer has a station in the basement for measuring and monitoring energy consumption). As the building usually operates during peak demand, these savings are all the more relevant.With its interior renovation for the Energy Foundation, Tanner-Hecht has acknowledged the underlying order of the Neoclassical shell and has reimagined it in a Modern form. A rational layout reinforces the nonprofit’s goals as an enlightened organization, and many of the design decisions the architects made reflect its forward-thinking values. With this project, the Energy Foundation has gained not only a new facility, but also a showcase that will secure its foothold as a standard-bearer in an era of profound fiscal and environmental challenges.

Gross square footage:
17,600 sq. ft.

Total construction cost: $140/SF

Completion Date: July 2008

Owner: The Energy Foundation

Architect:
TANNERHECHT Architecture
126 Post Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, California 94108
T: 415.979.1500

 

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