7 Architectural Preservation Projects in San Francisco

Rounding up a few remarkable renovation and preservation architecture projects in the Bay Area, courtesy of SPUR and San Francisco Architectural Heritage.
Text by

SPUR, aka the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, has been the driving force behind awareness-raising archictural and urban initiatives in SF since 1910. It's still a resonant organization for Dwell's home city (see: 10 Diagrams That Changed City Planning, Yerba Buena Street Life Plan), and this month, SPUR's publication The Urbanist, with the help of San Francisco Architectural Heritage, delves into a topic we can't get enough of: new life for old buildings. 

The Exploratorium museum, housed within the original bulkhead at Pier 15, accommodates four spacious galleries. The glass-and-steel Bay Observatory—the only new structure on the site—unites the Embarcadero with the bay. Photo by: Bruce Damonte.

Original architects: G.A. Wood, H.B. Fisher, A.W. Nordwell (1930s)

Contemporary architect: EHDD (2013)

Preservation architect: Page & Turnbull 2013

Here we've selected seven examples of civic architectural preservation done right, from what SPUR's deputy director Sarah Karlinsky notes as the "dramatic juxtaposition of old and new in the Daniel Liebeskind-designed Contemporary Jewish Museum to the rehabilitated Ferry Building, which instantly became a magnet for tourists and locals alike" when it reopened in 2002.

SPUR describes One Kearny: "Composed of three fused-together buildings representing distinct eras, [it's] is a masterwork of sympathetic urban architecture. Through its classical composition and sensitive materials, the 2009 addition, designed by [architect Charles Bloszies], takes cues from both the original French Renaissance Revival building designed by William Curlett in 1902 and the mid-century annex by Charles Moore, yet its texture is carefully distinguished from those older buildings." Photo by: Matthew Millman.

You can read the full report on preservation in the city of 800,000 here, or visit the free exhibition Adapt/Transform/Reuse at SPUR Urban Center Gallery at 654 Mission Street.

Located in the South End Historic District, the recently completed 178 Townsend project added four stories and 94 rental housing units behind the edifice of the former Arc Light Company Station B building. A sleek glass structure was inserted into the original masonry building, juxtaposing materials and volumes. Photo by: Jeremy Blakeslee.

Original architects: Frederick F. Hamilton and George W. Percy (1888)

Contemporary architect: HKS and Martin Building Co. (2012)

The former Jessie Street Substation, with its elegant neoclassical design, took on a radically new dimension in 2008 with the completion of Daniel Liebeskind’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, a lustrous blue cubic structure which transects the historic brick facade. These geometries and materials—stainless steel against traditional masonry—amplify the contrast between old and new. Photo by: Jeremy Blakeslee.

Original architect: Willis Polk (1905–1909)

Contemporary architect: Daniel Liebeskind (2008)

Once a derelict urban alley, Mint Plaza is nestled between the Old Mint and several historic warehouses. A simple ground plane unifies the plaza, while a steel arbor balances the towering warehouses to the north and the lower neoclassical facade of the Mint building to the south. The climbing vines on the arbor bring extensive greenery to the heart of the plaza and provide a canopy for al fresco diners. Photo by: Jeremy Blakeslee.

Contemporary Architect: CMG Landscape Architecture (2008)

The U.S. Army’s former airplane hangars on Crissy Field posed a complex rehabilitation challenge for the Presidio Trust. Fortunately, the House of Air, a trampoline gymnasium, offered a new use that capitalized on this hangar’s large, open interior, steel trusses and slightly gritty character. New components were skillfully placed within the cavernous structure, with the architect riffing on its aviation history to produce a bright, playful interior where people can literally take flight. Photo by: Ethan Kaplan.

Original builder: U.S. Army (1921)

Contemporary architect: Mark Horton Architects (2011)

Foundry Square II represents the extreme juxtaposition of old and new with a lone 100-year-old brick-and-heavy-timber stalwart providing visual relief from the steel and glass rising up around it. Completed in 2003, the project incorporates a 30,000-square-foot historic building, faithfully restoring its brick exterior while renovating the interior to serve modern technology and functionality. Photo by: Jeremy Blakeslee.

Architects: STUDIOS Architecture and Jim Jennings Architecture (2003)

Preservation architects: Page & Turnbull (2003)


Last Updated


Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.