Special Commendation: Design for Resources

Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse

Architect: Aidlin Darling Design

Project Location: San Francisco, California

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Built in 1901 as the home of San Francisco’s first electric railway, the Geneva Car Barn & Powerhouse is one of the last physical reminders of the system. The adaptive reuse of the building transforms a dilapidated historic landmark into a cultural hub. Throughout the space, the interplay of new and old enlivens the reading of each, creating a revitalized historic building that serves the community once more while honoring its past.

“A modern, clean design married with the ”grit” of the existing building.” – 2022 Design Awards Jury

Design for Integration

The project is a champion of inclusive design and promotes equitable communities. It is considered a critical element to revitalizing the surrounding Balboa Park neighborhood, a historically underserved community. The reinvigorated landmark has been transformed into a community events center and performance space that also provides much needed children’s art education to the neighborhood. Programming is run by Performing Arts Workshop, a non-profit dedicated to advancing equity in arts education with a focus on underserved

Design for Equitable Communities

The building is located across the street from the Balboa BART station, one of the most heavily trafficked stations in the BART system. Moreover, the MUNI tracks run around the project site, with a number of rail lines serving the site. As such, the building is accessible by public transportation from almost every corner of San Francisco and the Bay Area. It is also situated near many public schools as well as City College San Francisco, which will increase access to young people interested in participating in the classes as well as other community programming. Additionally, the rehabilitated building is fully ADA compliant with universal access within and around the building. Highly visible improvements have been made to the entrance and streetscape.

Design for Ecosystems

A previously barren landscape of concrete sidewalks and asphalt surrounded the site. As part of the adaptive reuse, the team added significant landscaping in front of the Powerhouse, with additional landscaping planned for Phase 2. Landscape featuring native plantings helps revitalize the surrounding streetscape.

Design for Water

The building employs strategies that result in a minimum 30% water than the baseline calculated for the building. Plumbing fixtures were selected based on their ability minimize potable water usage, and ultra-low flow toilets, urinals and lavatory faucets were also specified. Native landscaping has irrigation to aid in the stabilization and growth of the planting with the expectation that it will not be needed in future years.

Design for Economy

The decision to adapt a derelict building in the heart of San Francisco into a community center was the first and largest way in which this project was “right sized.” The tall one and a half story space with its vaulted roof and natural light was a perfect fit for the community’s need for a community event space. Moreover, adding a green room within the space, while maintaining the historic surrounding fabric, creatively allowed needed isolated program within the building footprint. Efficiency of materials was also a strong consideration for this project, exposing structural materials such as the concrete shear walls and floor as finished surfaces. Existing surfaces were exposed to the greatest degree possible, with the intent of expressing the value of the historic surfaces.

Design for Energy

The historic building envelope itself is inherently energy inefficient, with the concrete and brick walls lacking insulation and single pane windows required to be maintained to meet historic standards. Regardless, all new insertions were designed to support energy efficiency, from the new well insulated roof to the addition of interior glazing behind the historic windows to reduce air infiltration. The new radiant floor system provides the main heating source at the floor level, effectively and efficiently warming the occupants.

Design for Well-being

Set on a busy site within the City, surrounded by railway tracks and MUNI trains entering and existing the yard, the project sought to create a community refuge in the heart of activity. A great deal of attention was paid to noise and retaining quiet for the events and activities within the space. A radiant flooring system provides the building with efficient, comfortable heating and cooling without creating distracting noise and vibration. Secondary windows were layered within the existing to protect against the ambient street and railway noises. The landscape was developed to provide green as the view from within the space, hiding the view of the street beyond. All allow the user to experience the space without distraction.

Design for Resources

The project aimed to retain as much of the original fabric as possible while meeting current seismic codes. To do so, an intensive study was undertaken to determine the best structural support for the building. In order to retain the existing brick walls, new concrete shear walls were layered over selected walls to provide the needed strength.

The design preserves and highlights as many of the historic details as possible, while simultaneously incorporating strategies that reduced or eliminated the consumption of new material. Existing brick and concrete finishes were carefully preserved. A structural metal deck incorporates sound insulation to provide acoustic attenuation and reduce the need for additional acoustic materials. A structural concrete slab doubles as the finished floor. Structural glazed floors enclose the existing floor openings where turbine engines once generated power for streetcars, creating vitrines where artifacts will be displayed.

Design for Change

The building incurred severe damages from two major earthquakes in 1906 and 1989 respectively. In the 29 years between the mothballing of the building in 1989 and the start of construction in 2018, water damage and time further deteriorated the already aging and earthquake affected structure. The concrete ceiling of the Powerhouse was crumbling such that the sky was visible from the interior, grass was growing in the turbine pits and every interior and exterior surface was in need of repair. Now deemed earthquake safe, a full seismic upgrade and a new roof drastically mitigate the potential effects of future earthquakes and other damage. As Phase 1 of a larger renovation project of the Car Barn portion of the building, there were many infrastructural elements integrated into the space that will be removed once Phase 2 is implemented. The project was designed for that transition to occur and for the remaining space to be reclaimed for the assembly use.

Design for Discovery

This project was completed in the Spring of 2020 in the heart of the COVID shutdown in San Francisco. The space has been slowly been occupied by the tenant, the Performing Arts Workshop, although not to the extent that it will be in the coming months. Once the space is fully being used, the design team will be performing surveys for both satisfaction and energy use.

AIA California
AIA California
Celebrating over 75 years of service, the AIA California actively promotes the value of design and advocates for the architectural profession. AIA CA is an association of 11,000 dedicated and passionate members who share a commitment to design excellence and livability in California’s natural and built environments.

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