The renaissance of the Ford Assembly Building in Richmond, California is a powerful story of how a city, private companies and an architecture firm can produce a 21st-century facility from the bones of a building constructed in 1930. In fact, the quality of the original design by famed industrial architect Albert Kahn not only earned it a spot on the National Historic Register, but also allowed Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects to playfully re-imagine the sun-filled space as a place for work, art, leisure and learning. The result is a one of the greenest mixed-use buildings in the Bay Area, and certainly one of the most interesting.
After producing Ford cars, Jeeps and outfitting tanks during WWII, the huge complex sat vacant upon closing down in the fifties. Then the 1989 Loma Peralta earthquake forced the city to either fix the building or tear it down. Richmond chose to invest in the building, and after many years of seeking development partners the city finally was able to see the historic complex revived. Current codes would never allow a building to be placed so close to the water, so this was a rare opportunity to create a striking venue on the bay.
Photo © Billy Hustace
The massive complex shelters 525,000 square feet under rows of skylights and solar panels. Albert Kahn’s vision of incorporating copious daylighting throughout the project could not be more resonant 80 years later. Offices are bathed in northern diffused light as seen in SunPower’s contemporary offices. Other green-oriented companies followed suit like clothing manufacturer Mountain Hardware and Vetrazzo Countertops, turning the plant into a hub for green manufacturing and distribution.
Arts and culture are given a central home in the repurposed building in the massive glass-enclosed Craneway Pavilion. It is wrapped in 35-foot windows and rolling glass doors which open to the adjacent waterway overlooking Oakland and San Francisco across the bay. The huge space hosts concerts and art performances as well as large private functions and galas in a daylit and adaptable space.
The Boiler House Restaurant is the gastronomic result of the preservation of the original building’s heating equipment, which now flanks the single-slab recovered timber tables and the bar. Step next door into the Rosie the Riveter Museum to learn about the area’s manufacturing heyday during the Second World War.
The Ford Assembly Building’s southern side opens directly to the Bay Trail, which rings the entire region. A ferry terminal near the project offers a commuter ferry to San Francisco as well. The massive project is part of a larger effort to revitalize a community that was left without many resources after factories closed up shop generations ago. The project is also a forward-thinking enterprise that is anchored in sustainable design, clean technology, and manufacturing industries.
Photos © Billy Hustace