By Meghan Hall
At the beginning of February, Sares Regis Group and Dostart Development Company received approval from the Burlingame City Council to move forward with a landmark project intended to transform a historic post office site at the heart of downtown. The project will preserve the Burlingame Post Office while introducing 185,000 square feet of office and retail space to the property that combines both old and new. According to the project team, the property’s site constraints had a direct impact on the project’s overall design—but in a positive way.
Located at 220 Park Road, the 1.3-acre post office property is surrounded by downtown Burlingame, public transportation and amenities. Sares Regis and Dostart Development were attracted to the property not just because of its fundamentals, but because the joint venture was up for the challenge of repositioning the site, explained Andrew Turco, assistant vice president at Sares Regis.
“It is a really special property…Burlingame Avenue is pretty much unrivaled,” said Turco. “What kept it vacant so long is that it’s also complex, based on the historic post office on-site…Sares Regis has a history of unlocking complicated, messy sites…and one of the things that really brought us to the site was the opportunity to really create an iconic landmark portion of downtown.”
In designing the development, the project team—which also included KSH Architects—was tasked with bridging the gap between the art deco, low-rise form of the post office and a new modern office, a building that will become the tallest building in downtown Burlingame.
In an effort to mitigate the changes in massing and the perceived bulk and scale of the project, the development team decided to have the new office building tier back away from the post office, and as the office portion steps back, it will work to gently incorporate the existing post office structure. On Lorton Avenue, the building will be set back above the second story.
“We really did try to respect the building and make it part of the composition, so that when it is all done, it will still maintain its grandeur as a historic building, but it will be contributing towards the overall volume of the project and how it’s put together,” noted KSH Founder and Principal Ted Korth.
Additionally, all of the project’s parking will be moved underground to accommodate the new structure and to activate the pedestrian realm on all four sides of the development. Doing so, however, is far from an easy task. In order to make underground parking a reality, the development team will need to physically lift portions of the existing post office and moving them to an adjacent location. The building will then be replaced upon completion of the parking portion of the project. The task, along with other excavation and site work, is expected to take nearly two years.
“[It’s] definitely not typical for most projects, but it is super exciting,” said Turco. “I think it is something that will engage people in the history of the site.”
Punched windows with projected sills in a neat grid pattern will add to the articulation of the office building and mimic those of the post office. Materials of the new office building also will pull from the post office, but in a modern fashion. The design team’s selections include brick, small unit elements such as limestone and precast concrete panels.
The top floor of the building will feature a glass cap on top that features a slightly different architectural expression. The glass then cascades down the side of the building, through the lower portions of the office. The vertical edge will also glow in the evenings, connecting to the planned town square. Balconies on the side of the office building will also provide interest and activity as pedestrians look vertically up the façade.
“I think the way it activates multiple planes is really one of my favorite parts [of the project],” said Turco.
The Burlingame Town Square—located on an adjacent lot— will be constructed in coordination with the project. The development team has donated $2 million towards its completion.
While there were several design challenges the project team faced, all parties involved agree that it has produced a better design in the end. Turco noted that because of some of the constraints, it allowed for there to be several “win-wins,” including the preservation of the post office for the City, and increased height for the offices for the development team. In addition, the development team was granted an easement, which allowed for more underground parking. In return, the lot will be available for visitors in the evenings and on weekends.
“I personally think architectural design is always made stronger when you impose some constraints on it,” said Turco. “Sometimes blank slates are the hardest ones to work with, and I think having that thesis from the beginning that we wanted to preserve those portions of the post office…really made for a more interesting puzzle that the team was able to unlock and turn into this more interesting design as a result.”