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Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.

Restoration Of The Ford Assembly Building In Richmond, California

March 20th, 2011 by Sanjay Gangal

The restoration and preservation of the Ford Assembly Building on the San Francisco Bay waterfront, saved an historic architectural icon from the wrecking ball, and converted a long-vacant auto plant into a current-day model of urban revitalization and sustainability. The 525,000 square foot building had been designed by Albert Kahn for Henry Ford, and constructed in 1931. Following the facility’s initial car factory function, the Ford Building had many incarnations, including the famous World War II tank factory “manned” by Rosie-the-Riveters. In 1989, the Loma Prieta Earthquake’s devastation of the structure rendered it dangerous and unusable. Finding a way to revive the magnificent but crumbling 500,000 square foot industrial hulk was challenging; multiple attempts had failed to create a financially viable way to adaptively reuse the building, while adhering to the preservation standards of the National Park Service and the State of California Historic Preservation Office’s (SHPO). Fortunately the most recent attempt took, as the current owner, who acquired the property in 2004, and his architect found the successful path to rejuvenation of the building substantially completed in 2009.

Ford Exterior West - Photo by Charles Benton

BoilerHouse South Face - Photo by Billy Hustace


1. Renewable Energy , Energy Conservation, and Energy Consumption Reduction

The project well exceeds AIA’s goal of 50% reduction of energy use in buildings through two major aspects: first, a massive installation of rooftop solar photo voltaic panels and second, a design plan that exploits the building’s potential for natural daylighting and natural ventilation / cooling. With a series of massive north-facing skylights, the sawtooth roof created the luxuriously ‘daylit’ car factory maximizing year-round natural lighting. In the restoration project, daylighting and views are maximized; 90% of spaces in the building take advantage of the massive skylights and continuous industrial sash windows overlooking views of the Bay or the hills. This is achieved by space planning in office tenant areas which located glass faced private offices near the core of the floor plan, and open work / circulation spaces adjacent to windows.

Fortuitously, the south facing angled saw tooth configuration had been ideally oriented at an angle optimal for solar panel efficiency at a time that was decades before the advent of solar power. In an arrangement between SunPower Corporation and the owner, a 1-megawatt high-efficiency SunPower solar power system is installed atop the long Assembly Building roof’s sawtooth structure of this historic facility. Through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the owner, SunPower, the largest tenant in the building, occupying more than half of the Assembly Building, purchases output from the system to make their offices and on-site manufacturing operation 100% solar powered. The project also provides solar power for the other major tenant: 100% of Mountain Hardwear’s annualized electrical needs are solar powered. As a result, the SunPower system dramatically reduces dependence on fossil fuels for the majority of building, and along with energy efficient building and site lighting, and appliances / equipment, far betters the AIA goal of reducing by half, the building’s fossil fuel sourced energy consumption. We have the most comprehensive data for SunPower (206,907 sf) as follows:

Percent Energy Reduction For SunPower (based on Energy Star Target Finder): EPA % Energy reduction = 65%

• Energy Consumption / Square Foot / Year = kBtu/Sf.Ft./Yr/ for January 2009 – December 2009 at SunPower : 985,529 kWh = 3,362,624.95 kBtu/ year thus 16.25 kBtu/sf/year

• Additional Renewable Energy Consumption at SunPower / Square Foot / Year (note 3.412 kBtu = 1 kWh) January 2009 – December 2009 at SunPower 842,263 kWh / year = 2,873,801 kBtu / yr hence 13.89 kBtu / Sf.Ft./ Yr

BoilerHouse Restaurant Interior - (c) Billy Hustace

2. Material Choices address needs for indoor environmental quality + diversion of materials from the waste stream. Recycling/Waste Diversion during Construction: Construction Waste Management resulted in diversion of 75% of construction waste away from landfills. The project minimized waste by attempting to salvage as much of (95%) the existing building shell and historic interior features as practical. When building elements needed to be removed as a matter of seismic safety or adaptive reuse needs, these materials were oft en reused in inventive new forms mostly in the creation of furnishings for both indoors and outdoors. Whatever construction waste occurred was recycled through the process of separation of metals, stone, concrete, wood, paper and cardboard.

Deconstruction and Salvage of Materials: for example, limestone parapet caps that were removed for earthquake safety, were reconfigured into benches along the Craneway wharf; a tree removal project produced logs that were converted into long “family-style” tables at the BoilerHouse Restaurant; portions of a concrete floor slab removed to create an entry atrium were salvaged and configured to become a 20 ft long reception counter for SunPower Corporation.

Recycling/Waste Diversion during Operation: There are two major dining facilities on the premises – The BoilerHouse, a public restaurant and the other, SunPower’s cafeteria for employees of the company and other tenants. A recycle system in each of the dining facilities, plus at the many “kitchenettes” of the corporation, is provided for collection and storage of materials for separation of recycling paper, glass, plastics and metals. The restaurant operation has glass dinnerware and glasses, and the cafeteria has compost-able cups and utensils. Separate waste receptacles labeled for recycling and compost are provided throughout the complex.

Materials Were Specifi ed for Renewability, Recycle Content, and Non-Emission: Bamboo – a highly renewable material was used for flooring, casework, and walls of the main conference rooms. Benches were created from recycled Douglas Fir salvaged from deconstruction on the job site. Tables in the BoilerHouse Restaurant were created from English Walnut logs salvaged from a local tree removal project. Slabs of recycled glass manufactured on site by one of the Ford tenants were used for fabrication of kitchen and bathroom counters as well as tables. Much of the rough factory concrete floors were finished with a process of diamond grinding and polishing, eliminating the need for topical sealers. Where carpet was needed, high recycled content and low emitting products were used.

BoilerHouse Kitchen - Photo by Billy Hustace


1. Design Intentions and Implementation – Resolution of Program Requirements

Saving the Ford Building from being razed was an enormous contribution to the cultural richness of the community. This unique example of early 20th C industrial architecture in California was on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988, yet the survival of this masterpiece of industrial architecture was in doubt. Following devastating damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the building was vacant, deteriorating, and considered by many economically unfeasible to rehabilitate. The design team and client’s will to save the building was motivated by the desire to save the place, history, and irreplaceable architectural statement of the Ford, while simultaneously introducing contemporary program elements that would be financially viable, functionally in demand and architecturally compelling. Prior to the final project, the architect and client explored myriad development and programmatic possibilities. The ultimate implementation was the happy consequence of significant research, outreach, and frankly, trial and error.

Pre-existing Boiler Room interior - Photo by Billy Hustace

2. Distinguishing Factors Demonstrating Design Excellence:

a. Design Achievement – Resolution of formal, functional and technical requirements; ecological stewardship and social responsibility. Reflection of strong sense of place, ecology, history, and purpose.

The resolution of formal, functional and technical requirements naturally gave a front seat to celebrating rather than obfuscating the original building’s no-nonsense industrial beauty. It was a delight to build upon the sustainable design elements that Albert Kahn endowed the building with – namely the generously day-lit spaces thanks to the skylights and abundant fenestration, and the south facing roof surfaces, perfect for solar photo voltaic orientation. Social responsibility was further enhanced by the unanimous agreement among the building owner and tenants – all companies with strong dedication and official policies of ecological stewardship and social responsibility. This philosophy extended beyond the technical specificati on of materials in the building construction, and to the actual planning and layout of the spaces, so that they would humane, environmentally sound, and enjoyable to work in.

Context Looking South East - Photo by Steve Proehl

b. Technical Advancement – Structural Engineering and Innovative Use of Materials

Structural: One of the most architecturally dramatic manifestations of Technical Advancement in the Ford project is the grandstair that rises through SunPower’s entrance lobby “atrium” created by removing a bay of the second floor’s concrete slab. The technical achievement of this element was the result of exploiting a structural constraint to arrive at a new design approach justifying a dramatically different architectural concept for a stair. The structural engineer noted that the weight of the stair needed to be reduced to minimize the gravity load on the existing ground level slab which would not be able to withstand heavy point loads.

Meanwhile, the client – SunPower’s CEO – wanted a striking and visually dynamic statement. The architect’s design vision which responded to both the structural engineer’s technical and the client’s architectural goals, was a stair arising from a minimalist steel plate ribbon, folded to shape the risers and treads leading up to the sky. The aspiration was simplicity – unmarred by even one stringer that typically supports stair runs, and maximizing a sense of lightness, suspension and airiness in a soaring 2-story atrium. The architect’s goal was an ethereal, sky-bound stair, magically suspended mid-air. The innovative engineering answer to these visual design and weight challenges began with a concept where the stair’s 1/4” folded steel plate (with no stringers) would be supported by handrails doubling as trusses; meeting both technical and visual goals, the assembly would be suspended by three imperceptible rods from the ceiling to the intermediate landing. The result was a stair of about half the weight and half the amount of material (steel) that would be needed for a conventional stair.

Craneway Pavilion - Photo by Billy Hustace

Innovative Use of Materials: The Ford Building is located in one of the most seismically active locations in the world. The massive damage from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake demonstrated how vulnerable construction from the early 20th C was in a merely “moderate”, and not even “great” earthquake. Thus, the modern repair of the Ford Building could not be completed using all the methods and materials that were applied to the building’s original 1931 construction, yet the major facades of the building needed to pass the stringent visual standards of the National Park Service and State Historic Preservation Office. An good example of this challenge is the Craneway’s parapet (8” high Limestone cap topping 5’- 6” of brick cladding), much of which had literally been propelled in a catapult of masonry to the ground sixty feet below. Clearly it was structurally unsafe and unacceptable to rebuild the parapet out of brick. The solution was to find a light-weight material that could be made to look like the original brick, but would not be so dangerously prone to collapse. After much research and trial mock-ups, the architects found the solution in FRP laminate fabricated by a custom shop specializing in the design, engineering and manufacture of composite products for architecture, sculpture and industrial applications. FRPs (Fiber Reinforced Polymer Composites) are typically organized in a laminate structure, such that each lamina (or flat layer) contains an arrangement of unidirectional fibers or woven fiber fabrics embedded within a thin layer of light polymer matrix material (Figure 2). The fibers, typically composed of carbon or glass, provide the strength and stiffness. The matrix, commonly made of polyester, Epoxy or Nylon, binds and protects the fibers from damage, and transfers the stresses between fibers. Ultimately, the completed FRP parapet is indistinguishable from the original brick.

Craneway Interior - Photo by Billy Hustace

c. Preservation / Restoration – Differentiation between original architects’ work and new work. The building in scale and proportions is and was awe-inspiring even as a quake-ravaged ruin of brick, steel and concrete. The derelict shell was still astonishing, both for the internal spaces and external volumes made even more dramatic by the continuous bands of steel sash windows and north facing skylights’ floods of daylight. The designers’ own vision for the rebirth of this magnificent edifice was to retain yet enhance the powerful architectural aspects of the original building. This project to renew the building was driven by an impetus to salvage and restore features inherent to the building’s architectural spirit, plus to visually reinforce the building’s highly repetitive structural, fenestration, and skylight modules where intervention elements were necessary for the current tenants and uses.

Historic Craneway during WWII

Examples of these “intervention elements” of lighting, furnishings, free standing buildings within the building, rooms, stairs, ramps, platforms, walls, etc, placed and designed to work with existing building features are most apparent in the results for the Boiler House Restaurant, SunPower Corporation and Mountain Hardwear projects. These new elements are unmistakably of our current century, but are proportioned and of materials that are intended to be conceptually compatible with the 1930’s industrial architecture. (One exception is our choice of timeless stainless steel Poulsen “Artichoke” pendants in the SunPower lobby.) Examples of these new elements are the bespoke 20-foot long castered tables of thick wood slabs from salvaged trees designed for the Boiler House and Craneway venues, the suspended steel plate stair at SunPower’s atrium, the bamboo wrapped core of three central conference rooms at SunPower’s upper level, and the shed roofed offices within the larger existing space at Mountain Hardwear. Externally, the landscaping and hardscaping was designed on the building’s west side to reflect the more public and formal façade. Lighting both internally and externally was a way to highlight the building, particularly at night, to the structure rather than altering it. The vibrantly red-lit stack of the Boiler House is an especially arresting sight at night, and has become an iconic representation of the project itself.

Craneway Interior - Merce Cunningham Performance Anna Finke

The Craneway is an acre-sized, 60 ft . high, light filled event space surrounded on three sides by a wharf and water, and is built over the water on piers. The waterfront was historically exploited for the transportation of large goods and materials during its ti me as an industrial manufacturer of military and pedestrian vehicles. Now the waterfront’s beauty is a public and civic treasure – a place where the community gathers to celebrate and enjoy entertainment with the back drop of spectacular sunsets over the Bay, and stunning day or night views of San Francisco. Restored historical 35’ high windows, running the full perimeter of the Craneway connect users with unobstructed wrap-around views of the Bay. Rollup glass doors along the south facade further blur the line between inside/outside drawing even stronger connecti on with the waterfront for both building and user.

Historic Model T assembly line

d. Livability and Sustainability Goals – 10 Principles of Livability
i. Design on a Human Scale: It is a particularly exciting challenge to design spaces for human scale in a building as massive as the Ford. While the grandeur of the public use spaces, such as the Craneway and BoilerHouse Restaurant, is useful if not necessary for the kinds of functions held in those rooms, it is another issue in office spaces. For both SunPower and Mountain Hardwear offices, the architects did not want to “chop up” the large floor areas, and did want to maintain vistas across the space. This had the advantage of preserving the room height to plan area ratio. It also allowed the architect to create a “village” of small Monopoly type houses, or “huts”, complete with windows, roofs, and doors, that served as the offices, conference rooms, kitchens, etc. These, along with a circulation pattern of “streets” and “alleys” (defined by floor material) along which these huts and indoor trees were aligned, created a human scaled town, naturally lit by the regularly spaced skylights in the sawtooth ceiling.

Interior Mt Hardwear under construction - Photo by Billy Hustace

ii. Provide Choices: The scale of the building, and the nature of the uses at Ford provides choices in many aspects. There are two major dining venues, one the BoilerHouse Restaurant and the other the SunPower Cafeteria, which other tenants are welcome to use. There is also a minor food service facility in the Craneway. Transportation options at the Ford are described below. There is also wide choice in types of spaces and public venues in the building, described below.

Mtn Hardware in Richmond - Marcy Wong and Donn Logan

iii. Encourage Mixed-Use Development: The design of the Ford Building restoration allows the considerable mix of uses at Ford. The west side of the original car “assembly” portion of the building is two stories, the east side is one story. Typically the second floor is office, and the first level is a mixture of manufacturing, R&D labs, support space (such as cafeterias, gym, game rooms, etc.) and retail (Mountain Hardwear store). Along the east side are loading docks, while the west side has the official front doors of several companies. The Craneway, a 40,000 s.f. room for a wide variety of events and The BoilerHouse Restaurant are welcome amenities for both tenants and visitors to the Ford campus. The diverse building tenants have included: SunPower Corporation (solar power), Vetrazzo (recycled glass products), Title IX Sports (women’s sportswear) and Mountain Hardwear (tents, sleeping bags and outerwear) were attracted to the site for several reasons including the fact that recycling a building is a very “green” thing to do.

iv. Preserve Urban Centers: There are still local residents who remember the days when Model T’s came off the production line in the early 1930’s or World War II military vehicles were assembled at the Ford Building. The design and aesthetic of the original architecture has been retained, despite the adaptive uses of industrial / office / public venue spaces. Now a range of generations embrace the rejuvenated Ford as a part of the local community that is more vibrant than ever.


Site Plan

v. Vary Transportation Options: The building’s adjacency to San Francisco’s Bay Trail (a bike and pedestrian path that circumscribes the entire San Francisco Bay) and its water frontage is simpatico with the Ford Building workers’ predilection for commuting by bike or ferry. Continuing his commitment to alternative transportation, the building’s owner arranged for a shuttle bus between the waterfront and the Bay Area Rapid Transit station in downtown Richmond. Despite the site’s freeway proximity, the gasoline fueled automobile is no longer king at the Ford Building and electric cars and hybrids are more welcome in the parking lots.

vi. Build Vibrant Public Spaces: No longer just a vehicle production factory, the rejuvenated Ford Assembly Building provides a variety of choice as a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, campus with diverse public venues stimulating face-to-face interaction and catering to a variety of dining, & entertainment/art opportunities.

The Craneway Pavilion – The tremendous 400 by 100 by 65-ft high acre-sized Craneway is a waterfront public entertainment venue for activities ranging from dance and music performances to weddings, banquets and circus shows. A few examples of the hundreds of public activities at the Craneway include: performances by Cirque de Soleil, Merce Cunningham Dance Company and various music events ranging from classical to hip hop.

The Wharf – Encircling the Craneway, and connecting to the Bay Trail, the Wharf is a vibrant public space with straight on panoramic views across the water to San Francisco’s skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County. Ferry boats, kayaks, sailboats, enliven the marine scene. In addition to this lively pedestrian promenade, bicycle and water related “traffic”, the Wharf is used as one of the Bay Area’s most exciting venue for July 4th Waterfront Fireworks accompanied by John Philip Sousa played live by the Oakland East Bay Symphony.

BoilerHouse Restaurant – Originally a boiler room which provided heat for the Ford, the new restaurant kept the name and was designed to stay true to its industrial feel. The design preserves and architecturally highlights the industrial roots of the building.



vii. Create a Neighborhood Identity: The original plant was Ford Motor Company’s largest operation West of the Mississippi and brought much needed work to Richmond at the start the of the Great Depression. During World War II, women workers dubbed “Rosie the Riveters,” now a cultural icon, made their mark at the Ford Assembly Building. Approximately 49,000 jeeps were assembled and 91,000 other military vehicles were processed here by these women whose desire to serve aided the country through WWII. The much anti cipated NPS Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center in the former “Oil House” at the Ford campus is to be a monument to these women. Today, new jobs and new civic pride are the result of the sustainably renovated and occupied Ford Building. Tenants – SunPower, Vetrazzo, BoilerHouse Restaurant, The Craneway and Mountain Hardwear are green businesses providing over 1,000 jobs in the area.

viii. Protect Environmental Resources: Of course, preservation of the building itself was a major element in the protection of environmental resources. The architects incorporated sustainable strategies in the design and construction of the building’s restoration. In addition to the efforts to specify building and furniture materials that were local, renewable, and/or from recycled materials, conservation of water – a particularly precious environmental resource in California – was a high priority: Water Conservation. This objective was addressed in the landscaping and plumbing fixtures. Native, low grasses and plantings with low water reduce water consumption by the landscaping surrounding the building. In-ground drip irrigation system conserves 25%-40% of the water typically required for planting of this scale while eliminating runoff that would pollute the Bay. Delivers water directly to the roots and eliminates overspray. Waterless urinals, low water fl ow shower and lavatory faucets, and dual-flush toilets were specified.

ix. Conserve Landscapes: Waterfront landscapes and San Francisco’s Bay Trail wrap three sides of the Ford Assembly Building’s south end. Public venues such as the Craneway Pavilion, BoilerHouse Restaurant, and wharf with ferry access, maintain the most immediate waterfront access and were preserved for environmental, recreational, and cultural purposes. The “historic lawn” on the west side of the building was recreated to conserve the original landscape idea, only using a highly water conserving irrigation system.

x. Recognize that Design Matters: Design excellence for the Ford Assembly Building means instilling new purpose and function by revitalizing an already rich historic architectural icon while respecting its existing industrial aesthetic, cultural and community ti es. Design matters greatly, for architecture is about shaping our experience, sense of place and community. Hence, the best design of the built environment expresses the primal aspiration to connect to what has come before, to make of it something fresh and original, and to anticipate those yet to come. In the particular instance of the Ford Building, one is acutely aware that buildings are made for a moment in time, then outlast their original purpose, yet – particularly in the case of exceptionally fine edifices – they should not be summarily demolished. These old buildings are transformed by new uses and old memories. Surrounded by new construction, those who are preservation minded try to hold on to them. Design matters in determining the balance between conservation and renewal. Design matters in making worth while the enormous effort to keep architectural icons like the Ford from destruction, and design matters in adaptive reuse that architecturally complements rather than competes with the old building, while maintaining new values of sustainability and social justice.

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Categories: Autocad, Plant, Restoration

One Response to “Restoration Of The Ford Assembly Building In Richmond, California”

  1. Nice and indeed a very informative post. I do work in windshield and auto glass industry and its very difficult to find some latest happenings in this industry. Thanks for writing such a good post and keep up the good writing. Thank You

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