At the triangular intersection of San Francisco’s SoMa, Potrero Hill and Showplace Square districts is the former site of the San Francisco Gravel Company. Formed in the 1920s, the company was run by three generations of the same family, and in 2014, the family reached out to San Francisco-based commercial real estate investor and developer SKS Partners to develop the site in partnership with global design firm Perkins&Will. The four-story mixed-use building, named 1 De Haro, introduces to the architectural scene California’s first multi-story mass timber building using cross-laminated timber (CLT) in its design.
“Our concerns were really about trying to fit into the neighborhood and give back to the neighborhood, and figure out how to take what was a material supply yard and take it into the next century,” said Peter Pfau, design principal and director at Perkins&Will. “One of the things we hit on very early is the idea that we would combine production, distribution and repair [PDR] and office on the site…and the idea is it’s a social equity consideration that you’re providing jobs for all kinds of people, and the PDR is actually activating the ground plane around the building. The building is potentially a very active part of the city, and it gives back on all frontages. That was really our strong objective as we went to it, and I’d say it’s pretty much played out in the building.”
This isn’t the first time SKS Partners and Pfau have worked together on a project. They have partnered on more than 10 projects together, and for Paul Stein, partner at SKS, having Pfau and his team on board for the project was a testament to the collaborative process of creating 1 De Haro.
“We have a very deep, collaborative relationship with Peter and his team,” Stein said. “We work very well together.”
1 De Haro is a 134,000 square foot triangular-shaped building, rising four stories and 60 feet tall. According to project documents, the building itself is designed in a jewelry box shape, with a glass curtain facade, 20 foot ceilings and a mezzanine to act as a welcoming space for the tenant. Amenities of the LEED Gold certified building include space for bicycle parking and showers, and according to Stein, the tenant is building out a roof deck, as well.
Mission Creek runs underground through the back of the property, which according to Pfau, posed an interesting constraint on the project. The team used the opportunity to activate the outdoor area and offer up space for tenant parking.
“We could not build any structure on that, but we wanted to make constructive use of it and so we turned that into a kind of outdoor space that the lobby opens up to and spills out,” Pfau said. “It’s actually a really beautiful space. There’s colors, patterns on the ground that define the space and wrap up the building…So again, giving back to the neighborhood in a way and taking what are normally negative aspects of the building and rethinking them in ways that can get back to the urbanism and urban environment around it.”
The project broke ground in 2019. 1 De Haro was built in a PDR designated zone, which requires new office buildings to dedicate a third of their space to businesses that comply with PDR designation. This allows for companies to more successfully integrate into the character of a neighborhood, boosting creativity and innovation and helping businesses to grow into a more organic industrial space. In 1 De Haro’s case, industrial IoT company Samsara is the newest tenant to benefit from such a designation.
“We’ve done a number of PDR spaces in San Francisco and many of them with SKS,” Pfau said. “They’re really raw, industrial spaces where things can happen. It’s about spaces where people can start a business and grow a business. They’re in the business of making things. It’s a little grittier than a conventional building, but its requirements are not super complicated.”
The team is keen to get involved in PDR designated projects because of the impact it has on the city of San Francisco.
“It has a vital role to play in the kind of ecosystem of our city,” Pfau said. “That’s one of the reasons we got involved in PDR and are excited about what it means for the city.”
While 1 De Haro is built like many other podium structures, designing the lowest floor and mezzanine from concrete and using stacked wood construction for the upper floors, there is one significant area where the building stands out from the rest: its use of mass timber. By using CLT and glue-laminated timber, the team created a building that is sustainable, light, flexible and quicker to construct than more traditionally designed buildings.
“It was the first mass timber building being done in San Francisco,” Pfau said. “So really, nobody had done mass timber, and we believed in it. We created a process for evaluating mass timber versus other options. We looked at concrete versus mass timber and raised it from a financial point of view. And in the end, the benefits in terms of the quality of the building product with mass timber tipped the scales for mass timber, and we were able to go ahead…once we decided to do mass timber, then it was really all about trying to celebrate that in the building to make it visible from the outside to develop beautiful detailing that celebrates the technology, and it became a compelling solution.”
According to project documents, mass timber is a manufactured wood product that uses the lamination and compression of several layers to create columns and beams and CLT. While mass timber in construction has existed in Europe for more than 20 years, it is still a newer concept States-side. As wood is a sustainable resource, mass timber has the benefit of reducing a building’s carbon footprint, which is something that the team noted was important to the design process as they worked with Canadian mass timber supplier Nordic Structures on the material sourcing.
“We try to be mindful of the carbon footprint of anything we do because carbon is an incredibly important part of everything these days,” Pfau said.
Mass timber also has the added benefits of noise control, seismic soundness and fire safety.
“For us the challenge was that building officials were less familiar with mass timber, so they needed assurance that fire issues were properly addressed,” Pfau said. “But the interesting thing is mass timber performs better for fire safety than other products, certainly a lot better than steel.”
Mass timber also boasts the additional advantages of precision and construction speed, which ultimately help mass timber projects stay on budget. Stein likened mass timber’s cross sectional design to Lincoln Logs; Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines fabricate CLT panels to the millimeter, and those precise measurements reduce job site waste and allow construction to move quicker.
“It’s incredibly versatile and incredibly precise,” Pfau said. “The product that comes out is beautiful, precise, and it goes together really quickly, so that makes a big difference in time frame.”
Because mass timber also allows for a lighter load, there is also a reduced foundation cost. According to Stein, the wood versus concrete option was 50 percent lighter. While at the time of construction the code limited mass timber buildings to six stories or 85 feet in height, the team hopes projects like 1 De Haro will have a positive impact on codes in the future.
“Keep in mind what we saw with this project is it’s faster [and] that brings down the construction cost in so many ways, and then in terms of foundation weight it was so much lighter, and that’s at four stories,” said Matt Covall, senior project manager from Perkins&Will. “If you’re going to go to 18 stories, it’s just compounding.”
Another benefit of using mass timber in design is the biophilic qualities, which help people feel more connected to nature.
“There’s a word they use to describe that quality,” Pfau said. “It’s called biophilic, and it actually has benefits for people to feel surrounded by natural products. So it has very strong biophilic benefits, and…you really experience it when you’re there in the building and it really does make you feel better because of the beauty of the wood.”
The team noted that 1 De Haro, which was completed in 2021, has garnered a lot of interest from people around the city. City officials and developers have wanted to tour the building, and Stein said other contractors and architects are adopting the idea.
The team hopes that mass timber projects like 1 De Haro help pave the way for a new future of sustainable construction.
“We have a number of mass timber projects on the boards and we’re actively promoting mass timber,” Pfau said. “We really believe strongly that the carbon impacts are significant. We have a big hill to climb as a culture in society to mitigate our carbon impact. We hope that more people will adopt it, and that we’ll see more and more of it in the marketplace.”