Pier 1







Pier 1, a historic gateway between the San Francisco and the rest of the world, fell into disuse during World War II due to changes in shipping technology that forced the industry to deeper harbors. By mid-1998, the Port of San Francisco, in need of a new headquarters, chose to adapt and reuse Pier 1 in a public-private partnership with developer AMB Property. We were approached to creatively readapt the pier into a Class A office space featuring cutting-edge sustainability features. 

Pier 1 incorporates two major building elements: the front “bulkhead” building facing the Embarcadero and a 770-foot empty “shed” warehouse extending over San Francisco Bay. Retaining the integrity of these two parts was essential to secure a position on the National Register of Historic Places and earn tax credits for building rehabilitation. Twelve public agencies were consulted to review the refurbishment plans, including the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). Key design elements required by BCDC included the transformation of an acre of exterior space into public spaces as well as an interior visitor’s center and gallery intended for public access. 

Since the 1940s, Pier 1’s shed was predominately used as public parking. Transforming it into Class A office space would require extensive work that would only be financially feasible by adding a second level to the interior—effectively doubling the rentable space to 140,000 square feet. Due to the structural arrangement of the windows, we needed a unique solution that would not diminish the impressive views from any angle. We chose to disconnect the second floor from the exterior walls and windows to increase natural daylight in the office spaces and provide both levels impressive views of the city and bay. 

Mechanical and refurbishment limitations presented a unique opportunity for innovative, sustainable solutions. The heating and cooling loads, for instance, were reduced with operable windows which circulated fresh outside air and a unique radiant closed loop heat exchange system was incorporated into the structural slabs on the ground and second floors. The closed system uses water from San Francisco Bay for cooling.

While the bulkhead’s exterior finishes gave Pier 1 a commanding presence, the interior left much to be desired. Serving as a warehouse of sorts over the years, the bulkhead’s interior was designed for easy access storage—requiring extensive remodeling in order to create office spaces. Many of the existing finishes were redone and paired with new finishes made from recycled materials and sources.  Furthermore, to meet new building code requirements, both buildings had to receive an extensive structural upgrade. To preserve the historic building fabric, structural solutions were devised that mimicked the original steel details and an innovative seismic buffer was retrofitted under the apron around the exterior of the pier to prevent the removal of large sections of the existing building structure. 

Pier 1 today is a beautiful, sustainable commercial building. Both visually arresting and accessible to the city and Bay, it is one of the most sought-after business addresses in San Francisco.