New Lobbies Redefining Some Bay Area Buildings

By Michele Chandler

In hopes of differentiating themselves and drawing more tenants, numerous building owners have commissioned changes to transform tired, dated lobbies into unique and attractive entryways.

“We are doing more and more of them,” said David Link, principal at San Francisco-based architecture firm Huntsman Architecture Group, about the wave of lobby “repositionings”—best described as renovation projects on steroids—that are keeping his firm busy across the Bay Area and in other states.

Some building owners want their properties to be “tweaked and upgraded to the tastes and appeal of this generation of workers and business owners,” Link said. That means “keeping it fresh and interesting for what the current taste is,” he said.

A well-done lobby renovation can convey that a property “is quality, that it’s well cared for and that it’s an attractive place that tenants want to go into and perhaps remain,” said Link.

Recent commercial building lobby upgrade projects for Huntsman have included upgrading lighting, installing more attractive flooring, putting in designer furniture and indoor trees and even changing building entryways.

The motivation behind each lobby upgrade and its final look are all different, depending on what the building’s owners want to achieve, said Link. But one thing remains constant—those building owners are willing to spend.

“We’re in a construction boom right now and costs for construction overall have increased greatly. But no matter what the economy, these kinds of renovations are costly. I would say at a minimum they are $500 a square foot and would go up from there,” said Link. “When you’re taking the fronts off of buildings and pushing the footprint out and doing sidewalk pavement, you’re touching everything, including lighting, utilities and building infrastructure.”

Here’s a look at three of Huntsman’s lobby projects in San Francisco, completed in 2015 and 2016.

301 Howard St.

New office towers are springing up all over San Francisco’s burgeoning Transbay Terminal district in downtown San Francisco, an area just south of Mission Street from Second to Beale streets.

That means building renovations must pack major optics if they’re going to be successful attracting the top-tier corporate tenants that give office towers their cachet.

With that imperative in mind, the Vanbarton Group, owners of 301 Howard Street, aimed to revitalize the building’s lobby and spruce up the adjoining retail spaces to give their location a well-needed, up-to-date vibe.

Built in the late 1980s, the 23-story building is the result of an earlier growth spurt in San Francisco—a boom that seems tame compared to today’s much larger and more architecturally daring towers. So, the Vanbarton Group charged Huntsman with making its building stand out.

San Francisco’s waterfront location provided inspiration for a lobby design that is reflective of the ebb and flow of the tides. That metaphor is readily evident in the space, down to the team’s selection of furniture—custom-made seating sculptures by acclaimed New York furniture designer Matthias Pliessnig that were deliberately stained in driftwood-like color tones.

The 6,715-square-foot lobby also features glass-infused terrazzo tile flooring and improved lighting.

The maritime theme of 301 Howard carries on with a wood-wrapped elevator lobby, intended to be reminiscent of a wooden boat dock. And the patterned concrete wall at the building’s core serves as an elegant interpretation of a seawall.

50 California St.

Opened in 1972, the 50 California St. building occupies a spot at the foot of Market Street.

“It’s a really good quality building right in the heart of the Financial District. It just didn’t have any sort of attractive, competitive edge when you looked at comparable buildings that were new and in the neighborhood,” Link explained.

With much new development and towers opening a few blocks away in the South of Market district, a major renovation was needed in order for the Shorenstein-owned structure to remain competitive.

The team’s first task was to lift the look and function of the entrance of the 37-story building up to modern standards while also honoring its original design.

A new focal point emerged by relocating the lobby’s existing entryway from Davis Street to the more prominent California Street. Secondary entrances at Davis Street are highlighted by the concierge-style reception desk and bold artwork. Modern environmental signage installed on both street sides of the building help to identify the building more clearly.

Large artificial stones added decoration and potential seating, further blurring the line between furniture, sculpture and the natural elements.

555 California St.

Despite the soaring new towers around San Francisco, 555 California Street—formerly known as the Bank of America building—still remains as one of San Francisco’s most distinctive skyscrapers.

Its faceted facade, dark-tinted bay windows, Carnelian granite walls and height guarantee a continued presence on the skyline.The building, which opened in 1969, features a ground-level shopping concourse, which had been in its original condition.

Huntsman was commissioned to revamp the building’s Main Plaza Lobby, the Retail Concourse, the Exterior Concourse, and the Exterior Summer Street Plaza, totaling 29,900 square feet of interior and exterior design work.

The subterranean 12,000 square foot shopping concourse located below the lobby posed a particular challenge due to the lack of natural daylight and an awkward circulation pattern.

Huntsman’s designers provided new floor and wall finishes and completely revamped the various retail storefronts to create a more attractive environment. Now, there’s a custom ceiling with soft lighting and reconfigured public seating alcoves that offer tenants and visitors comfortable areas for socialization and impromptu workspaces.

The main lobby’s 20-foot-tall, floor-to-ceiling windows afford a view out onto California Street and Nob Hill. Huntsman updated the finishes, materials, furniture and area rugs to add warmth to the large lobby space.

Images courtesy of Huntsman Architecture Group