690 Folsom Street
Architects & Firms
The prosaic city garage at 690 Folsom Street in downtown San Francisco had been neglected for decades, but a recent makeover is attracting attention. Wrapped with a new layer of intricately cut white-painted aluminum and backlit by color-changing LEDs, the building now scintillates with a play of light and shadow that enlivens one of the city’s major roads.
The municipality built the two-level, 26,000-square-foot concrete facility in the 1920s to accommodate the newly widespread use of automobiles; when Boston Properties acquired the small structure in 2012, it was part of a much larger site containing two sleek office buildings. The developer commissioned a local firm, the Office of Charles F. Bloszies, to transform it into a mixed-use office building with ground-floor retail.
Spurred by the client’s request for something that would provide a dramatic counterpoint to the adjacent glazed complex as well as speak to the growing number of tech startups populating the increasingly sought-after South of Market neighborhood, Bloszies’s team focused on the facade, experimenting with parametric modeling software to develop a striking openwork screen. Featuring a seemingly random linear motif—which Bloszies, who is also a structural engineer, refined for structural integrity—the screen is composed of panels cut with a water jet from ⅜-inch-thick aluminum sheets and covered with a glossy white resinbased coating. The building’s existing concrete surface was painted a light gray for contrast and finished with a highgloss sealer to reflect light.
“Most of what we do blends into the urban fabric,” explains Bloszies. “This is a wild neon-like stitch against a dignified background—it’s not something that’s appropriate very often.”
Linear lighting fixtures are discreetly tucked behind the metal screen, one row along the top, one along the bottom. Outfitted with RGB LEDs, its 22-foot-high upper story is washed in the evening with a lighting scheme that can be programmed to any desired color, such as the festive green featured over Christmas and New Year’s. “Solid colors silhouette the screen pattern crisply; the best scenes are single-color or two-color, with one on top and another on the bottom,” says Bloszies. “Although the building is a bold statement, our approach to the lighting was sophisticated and not at all like Times Square or Las Vegas.”
The renovation was much more than skin-deep. The design team pulled the building back at grade to create an 8½-foot-wide arcade on the busy street, easing the pedestrian flow. Slender columns made of 4-inch-diameter steel tubing support this modern-day loggia, and glass window walls render the ground floor transparent to passersby. (The first floor is currently being readied for the San Francisco debut of Spin, a chain of Ping-Pong bars backed by actress Susan Sarandon.) The rehabilitation also included the replacement with steel supports of the aging wood roof structure and second-floor interior columns. The overall project cost was $8.9 million, which, at approximately $320 per square foot, is roughly comparable to the cost for new high-rise construction.
The money appears to have been well spent. According to Sharon Heiny, executive assistant at Metromile, the startup that occupies the second floor, it has helped with the company’s marketing. It’s hard to miss the facade with the random zigzags of a “giant rubber-band ball,” the one that glows at night, making it easy for visitors to locate. “It’s very cool,” says Heiny of the lighting. “The building creates its own ambience.”
Architect: Office of Charles F. Bloszies, FAIA -
Charles Bloszies, principal in charge;
Katy Hawkins, Allie Roberson, project managers;
Mike Bullman, Melissa Lee, designers;
Office of Charles F. Bloszies, FAIA (structural/civil);
Allied Mechanical (mechanical);
Decker Electric (electrical);
Allied Fire Protection (fire);
General contractor: Plant Construction Company
Client: Boston Properties
Size: 25,000 square feet
Cost: $8.9 million
Completion date: December 2014
Gothan Lighting (arcade);