By Meghan Hall
The San Francisco Bay Area is a top destination for venture capital funding thanks to the region’s numerous — and innovative — tech start-ups that have altered the ways in which people go about their daily lives. Venture capitalists are pivotal to the Bay Area ecosystem, and as more enter the market, venture capital firms are looking to stand out from their competition. When it came time for San Francisco-based 8VC to relocate, the firm selected an iconic site and hired architecture firm Fennie+Mehl to help them complete their vision.
“They’re a very successful group, and they wanted to have more of a standalone image,” explained Doug Mehl, co-founder and principal at Fennie+Mehl. “Being one of many tenants in an office building wasn’t what they were looking for. They found this property — Pier 5 — and they loved the location. They loved the views. They loved the water.”
Fennie+Mehl had helped 8VC with another office four years ago at 501 2nd Street in San Francisco. When 8VC settled on Pier 5 as its future headquarters, Mehl and the design team initially warned their client about the intense renovations the dilapidated building would require.
“I think what really excited them about this project was being in such an iconic building. They felt that because they deal with international clients, they needed an international location, not just another office building.”
“The space itself was just horrible; everything that had been updated over the years detracted from its beautiful, original character,” said Mehl. “We tried to talk them out of it, quite frankly, because we knew it was going to be very expensive, and we wanted them to know what they were getting into.”
However, as a firm, 8VC prides itself on its mission to invest in archaic institutions and systems and bring them to life through new, technological innovation. And, with a 12-year lease in place, its new offices would be no exception.
“Once they accepted, we were thrilled to work on it,” said Mehl. “It has a lot of prestige; this is a one-of-a-kind building. You can’t make these anymore, and I think they loved the fact that it was built in 1916. They loved the idea that they were repurposing it into something else.”
“I think what really excited them about this project was being in such an iconic location,” added Fennie+Mehl associate and architect Omied Arvin. “They felt that because they deal with international clients they needed an international location, not just another office building.”
The office, located on the right half of the Pier 5 building, includes two full floors, a mezzanine and totals about 11,000 square feet. From the beginning, the design team knew renovations and structural upgrades would be extensive. Both floors were walled off, and removing them to create an open layout required bringing in steel beams to help the original wood timbers support the load of the building. To make the structure sound, however, the construction team had to slip a barge beneath the pier at low tide to install the building’s new steel frames, a time consuming and tedious process.
“The ground and second floors were cut up with pure walls in very inopportune locations,” said Mehl. “It didn’t allow the space to flow from one end to the other; it was a maze.”
The project team also had to remove portions of the ground and second floors to install the structure. The goal was to create an open and inviting office, one that catered not just to 8VC’s clients but also to its employees.
“Their office is a tight-knit team,” said Arvin. “They don’t just work together; they hang out, and I think what the potential of this space offered programmatically was the flexibility to create a ground floor that catered toward social activities downstairs and office space upstairs.”
The final, overall look of the space is meant to inspire a bohemian and relaxed feel. The space features vintage furniture, original Banksy art, and the original wood beams. Runners made from vintage Iranian rugs adorn the floor, providing warmth to the structure’s original staircase, and a glass front replaced a former garage door at the front of the building, opening the office interior up to the Embarcadero. A custom, three-story light fixture ties all levels of the office together.
“It’s a very fluid space that you never could have imagined the first time you walked into it,” said Mehl. “It just has this richness and marvel. Everything you see is real. Real Carrera marble, real leather, beautiful walnut; everything is just very thoughtfully selected and thoughtfully designed.”
“There’s a wow factor, there,” Arvin added. “They want to show clients that they’re not like other venture capital companies. They’re showing it as opposed to just stating it.”
The project was officially completed in October of 2018, and 8VC has been happy in its home ever since. In all, from deciding upon the space to delivery, the design and renovation process took about a year.
“This was a very unique project,” stated Mehl. “This was more like a custom home, and it was almost less of a business decision in many ways, because it was a very personal buildout for 8VC.”