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The new Craneway Pavilion, adapted from an original loading structure from World War II (below left), is now

a vast public activity space.

New Purpose
by lisa ryan

Old Bones,

The historic Ford Assembly Building is now a modern mixed-use development. But thanks to Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects, its original history still shines.

Current photo: Billy Hustace.

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American Builders Quarterly

sept/oct 2011

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old bones, new purpose

old bones, new purpose

ith its massive windows and 525,000-square-foot presence, the Ford Assembly Building has long been a recognizable feature of the richmond, california, coastline. The structure is rich with history: when Albert kahn designed the building for Henry Ford in 1931, it was the largest assembly line factory on the West coast. During World War ii, it was famously transformed into a tank factory. The Ford Assembly Building was once richmonds chief employer, serving as an integral part of the local economy until it closed in 1956. The structure has since been repurposedits now home to businesses, an eatery, vibrant public spaces, and retail shopsyet its original beauty has been carefully preserved.
The city held several developer competitions for the project, Wong says. Eddie Orton invited us to join him in the pursuit of the project during those competitions and was selected after the inability of the previous developer to do the project. Wong and Orton werent working alone. Armed with degrees in architecture and engineering, Wong launched her own firm in 1986. Then, after meeting as faculty colleagues at the University of CaliforniaBerkeleys Department of Architecture, Wong and fellow architect Donn Logan decided to join forces, fusing their respective practices together in 1999 to create Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects. To land the project, Orton Development and Marcy Wong Donn Logan had to prepare a presentation for the Richmond City Council. We needed to show that we had the capability to actually carry the project through, she says. Shortly thereafter, the team was selected to repurpose the structure. Given the sites historic contributions to World War II efforts, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and functioned as part of Richmonds

Above: Architect Marcy Wong led the design of the adaptive reuse of the Ford Assembly Building. Opposite page: The massive, freshly invigorated Craneway Pavilion once served as a loading area for car and tank parts.

The transition from factory building to booming multiuse hub took decades. Prior to recent construction, the building was considered dangerous and unsuitable for use. It had undergone years of natural corrosion and decay; in 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake ravaged the Bay Area, inflicting seemingly insurmountable damage on the vacant building and creating a chaotic space of brick, steel, and concrete. Large areas of parapet, skylight, and wall were either missing, severely cracked, or completely broken. The structures south-facing craneway had also collapsed during the earthquake, resulting in a large pile of brick rubble. In addition, the roof monitors had been severely damaged, transforming the once-thriving factory into a leaking, inoperative shell. What had once been Fords masterpiece lay in a state of disarray. From 1990 to 2003, several developers attempted to undertake the project of restoring the building to its former glory, though none stuck with the property long enough to make substantial progress. Architect Marcy Wong first became involved with the redesign of the building in 2003, after being approached by developer Eddie Orton of Orton Development, Inc.

Structures need to be used, or they die.The goal was to get the building up and running and supporting itself.
MArk HuLBerT, HisTOric preservATiOn ArcHiTecT
Photo: Billy Hustace..

Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park. (Women factory workers manned the plant during World War II.) Unlike the firms other projects, this one necessitated working through historic preservation requirements from the National Park Service and State Historic Preservation Office. The firm sought the assistance of historic-preservation architect Mark Hulbert to help in the process. As a preservation architect, Hulbert would handle the administrative roles of organizing the historic preservation tax credit and working with the National Park Service, conveying the plans for the building from a preservation perspective. When he first joined the project, Hulbert was intimidated by the state of the building. A previous developer had completed some cleanup and structural work, so when we picked it up, it wasnt particularly dirty or ruinous, but the scale of the problem was still amazing, he says. It was really damaged. Still, the team recognized the project as a good candidate for adaptive reuse. First of all, it is a historic structure and was right for reuse, he says. Secondarily,

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American Builders Quarterly

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old bones, new purpose

old bones, new purpose

The PlaNS
8 3 2 1 4 5 7 10 9 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Parking Mountain Hardwear Loading Dock Other Tenants Sunpower Corporation Electric Vehicle Parking Vetrazzo Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center Boilerhouse Restaurant The Craneway Pavilion San Francisco Bay San Francisco Bay Trail
Site plan: Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects; Photos: Billy Hustace.

Left: The original boiler house became the BoilerHouse Restaurant, which incorporates some of the original structures features as display elements and conversation pieces. Above: The BoilerHouse Restaurant includes a sizeable kitchen partly daylit by extensive windowing.

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its an absolutely beautiful building. It seemed to have an inherent value that everybody recognized. The team surveyed the site, determining what aspects of the building could be restored or repurposed and what aspects needed to be completely redesigned. Adaptive reuse makes for a more interesting urban context with the variety of different architectural eras, Wong says. It is sustainable, it is economical, and in some cases, it saves an architecturally important building from destruction. Wong says that the design process began with innovative thinking on behalf of Orton Development. The developer determined that the team should not redesign the building to serve one function; rather, due to

the buildings size, it would take a variety of different uses to fully occupy the site. Ultimately, the idea was to retain and enhance the original building while pursuing other forms of functionality. As criteria for the tax credit, the Parks Service mandated that the craneway be preserved. Originally used as a warehouse space, it spans one acre and is 60 feet high. Light streams into the volume, which is surrounded on three sides by the wharf and water. Following the earthquake, the craneways limestone and brick parapet had been seriously damaged. Given that the building site sits atop seismically active land, the team determined that they should not restore the parapet in its original brick; rather, they decided to utilize a lightweight fiber-reinforced polymer composite, a substance almost indistinguishable from original brick. The fibers, which are typically composed of carbon or gas, provide strength and stiffness while a matrix made of polyester, nylon, or epoxy binds and protects the fibers from damage. The roof monitors that spanned the entire building were not eligible for restoration, however, and needed to be completely replaced. The roof monitors were made of steel and badly rusted out, Hulbert says, explaining that

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old bones, new purpose Left: The Mountain Hardwear offices are located inside the Assembly Building, which was subdivided into smaller spaces for separate businesses. Bottom left: The new public space inside the giant Craneway Pavilion has been used for a number of activities and events, including a performance by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Bottom right: During construction, the design team plans out the Mountain Hardwear offices.

TheN & Now


Craneway
they also suffered from heavy weather damage, so given how rapidly steel can deteriorate, the team decided to replace the monitors with aluminum. We replicated the original designs with aluminum so that the have better corrosion resistance. The roof of the building was augmented further by the addition of south-facing solar panels, which are located across the entire building. Restoring the flooring was another huge undertaking. We wanted to reuse the floors, but they couldnt be used in their existing condition, Wong says. The concrete floors were extremely beat up, and some portions had pieces of metal sticking out from them. The floor had to be treated, but we still wanted to show them off because theyre part of the charm of the building, she says. In order to restore the floors, the renovators utilized RetroPlate, a concrete-polishing system that allowed them to make the floor smooth, clean, and shiny using diamond sanders. When it came to the buildings finishes, the team attempted to reuse as much of the original materials as they could. The team created castered tables of thick wood slabs that span 20 feet, which are now used in the craneway and the BoilerHouse Restaurant, the buildings on-site eatery. The design team also created bamboocovered conference rooms for the buildings business tenantsSunPower Corporation, a leading developer and manufacturer of solar-power technologies whose offices cover 200,000 square feet of the building, and the Mountain Hardwear apparel company. Restoration efforts for the building were completed in 2009, though certain construction efforts are still ongoing. The final piece of the project is now underway, Hulbert says. The Parks Services visitor center is going into the Oil House, a freestanding structure that once fed the boilers. Once the center is completed, the building will be fully occupied. Thanks to the efforts of the design team, the building was saved from the wrecking ball. Instead, it remains a vital part of Richmonds historic landscape. Structures need to be used, or they die, Hulbert says. The goal was to get the building up and running and supporting itself. It seems to have succeeded. ABQ
Left photo: Alex Vertikoff;Bottom left photo: Anna Finke; Bottom right photo: Billy Hustace. 54 sept/oct 2011

The Assembly Building

Then: The Ford Assembly Plants craneway originally served as a warehouse space where the ships and railcars off- and on-loaded car parts. When the space was repurposed as a tank factory during World War II, car parts were replaced with tank parts. now: The craneway is a very large, open assembly space reserved for public activities.

Then: The Assembly Building housed Henry Fords largest West Coast assembly line. It was once filled with a large variety of equipment and conveyors. Parts entered the assembly line on one end and then progressed up and down through the system, traversing the spaces two floors. now: The building is a mixed-use structure, subdivided into different areas, including offices, such as those of SunPower Corporation and other manufacturing and retail companies.

assembly building

Then: The Boiler House, located between the craneway and the main building, once housed the factorys boilers and a massive, towering chimney. It was a completely mechanical space, featuring rather elegant equipment for its time. now: The redesign retained some of the original pieces of equipment, reusing them as historic props that decorate the BoilerHouse Restaurant, a new eatery located in the space.
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boiler house

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