The building is designated in the National Register, so its renovation had to preserve the site’s historic architectural integrity. Envelope a+d responded to this challenge with a design that embraces the pier’s raw warehouse quality. New materials were chosen to compliment the original artifice – not blend into it – and everything added to the space can be removed to restore the building to its found condition.
Pedestrians enter the gallery from a boardwalk above an inactive rail spur off the Embarcadero promenade. The modern double door entryway juts into the first gallery box, where visitors are introduced to the completely climate-controlled environment. Unlike a typical museum, there are no title plates or descriptions. Exhibits are accompanied by a map and a catalog, and vinyl numbers in the middle of each room identify your location. This lack of visual distraction creates a contemplative environment that encourages closer study of the photographs on display.
A two-track electronic and magnetic lighting system provides gallery techs with a huge range of lighting options while reducing operation costs. Before the dimmers were installed, monthly electric bills could run as high as $13,000. Motion sensors and five-minute timers turn off lights in vacant rooms, helping to bring that cost down to $4,000. As photographs are light-sensitive, natural lighting was not an option – windows are covered with a removable 3M film to protect the artwork from direct sunlight.
To make the most of the Bay’s windy and otherwise unpredictable weather conditions, seven HVAC systems were installed. These units adjust inside temperatures by recovering heat and redistributing air. Concrete slab flooring includes a water vapor barrier to protect the gallery from moisture rising off the Pacific Ocean, equalize pressure, and help heat the spacious interior.
Flow between the room-scaled boxes isn’t predetermined, and roaming the gallery provides a sense of discovery and awe. This feeling only increases when you reach the north bayside corner of the warehouse, which opens up to a sensational view of the Bay Bridge and the sailboats beneath it.
The gallery’s completion comes at a serendipitous time with America’s Cup just around the corner and the recent release of “Port City”, a San Francisco Architectural Heritage book that chronicles the rich history of San Francisco’s maritime past. Tours are available by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead.