By Meghan Hall
Constructed in 1941, Pier 70’s Building 12 has had a storied history, used by the Navy during World War II to manufacture steel plates and warship hulls. Eighty years later, a multi-year-long effort to preserve the building—which has become a hallmark in the neighborhood—reached a major milestone this month after the entire Building was lifted ten feet in an effort to protect it from encroaching sea level rise. The initiative is part of Brookfield Properties’ wider plans to overhaul 28 acres of Pier 70, located in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, preparing it for a new generation of use.
“It is the heart and soul of the project; it is imbued with this sense of grittiness but also work and creativity, and those characteristics kind of feed into everything we hope Pier 70 will be and what we’re striving to have it become,” explained Tim Bacon, senior director of development at Brookfield Properties. “That’s why it’s our first big vertical piece of the project.”
Aiding Brookfield Properties with the lift is Plant Construction, acting as general contract, as well as Bigge Crane and Rigging Company, a Hayward, Calif.-based lifting contractor. Perkins and Will is the architect for the project.
Brookfield Properties broke ground on the site in 2018 and has since been tackling site excavation, running underground utilities and infrastructure for a new street grid. Additionally, however, the project team has been working to regrade the property so that future buildings can withstand the estimated 2100 sea-level rise. While the initial plan involved raising the site’s grade to meeting Building 12 as it sits at the property’s high point, the project team ultimately moved forward with a plan that would boost the structure up even as well, maintaining its position of prominence as it was restored.
“The thought was given Building 12’s historical nature, its stature on the site—it is really the first thing you see and is the most notable building—in looking at all of that and realizing we wanted to maintain the building in its entirety and maintain the historic scale of it, we essentially realized we had to raise it, too,” said Bacon. “It was important to us to maintain building 12 as it has always been, which led to the genesis of this idea of lifting the building.”
The building weighs more than 2,000 tons—that’s about 800 hippopotamuses, if you’re counting—and spans the length of a football field. In all, two-story Building 12 totals 118,890 square feet. The lift, stated Plant Construction’s Vice President and Construction Manager Michael Tzortzis is one of the biggest the firm has ever done.
“Lifting buildings is done quite often in San Francisco, but most of the buildings that you lift are a lot smaller; they’re houses, residences, but nothing on the scale that this is,” said Tzortzis. “It was evident we needed to lift it for sea level rise, and then when we were looking at the surrounding site it became clear if you could live it three feet, you could lift it 10 feet to match with the surrounding grades.”
“Each project is unique and different when you get to this sheer magnitude of lift,” added Bigge’s Operation Manager John Leventini. “2300 tons is not something that gets moved very often, very far or very quickly.”
The lift was carefully coordinated over the course of more than nine months. 68 shoring towers were used inside the building, while 136 hydraulic jacks were used for the lift. The building was raised over the course of two weeks, about five and a half inches at a time. While slow, Tzortzis emphasized that the team only had about half an inch of play across the width of the structure if it were to remain level. Lifting the building ten feet took about two weeks. Currently, new columns are being inserted underneath the building’s original—and now floating—columns; after, the building will be lowered eight inches onto the new structure. The project team is also working to add a retaining wall at the perimeter for additional support.
Brookfield and Plant declined to comment on the cost of the lift, but stated it was an extra ten percent premium on top of the original project cost. For the project team though, the expense was worth it.
“For me, I think seeing this centerpiece of the neighborhood come together, that’s just wonderful,” said Tzortzis. “It’s the start of a transformation of a neighborhood for us, and we’re really excited to be part of that in the big picture.”
When Building 12’s restoration is complete, Brookfield hopes to turn the first floor into a makers market hall, where local manufacturers and artisans can create and showcase products. The second level, as well as a top loft level, will overlook the main floor and serve as dedicated studios for the artisans. Design elements include a new main staircase up to the building, and the structural steel frame of Building 15—located adjacent to Building 12—will serve as a new canopy. The ultimate goal of the Building 12 project is to provide a space reminiscent of the structure’s heritage, while preparing for the future.
“Dogpatch always maintained this sensibility of its manufacturing roots,” said Bacon. “That sense of heavy industry…it still pervades Dogpatch today. What we really wanted to do in Building 12 is to create a space that the community feels like they can be a part of and have a sense of wonder and awe when they see this building…We want it to be stitched into Dogpatch, and feel like it’s really an extension of the existing neighborhood.”