Sometimes good stuff does come out of mediocre plans.
As the ever-shrinking America’s Cup competition in San Francisco becomes, well, less and less exciting, a silver lining has manifested itself. The completion of the James R. Herman Cruise Ship Terminal at Pier 27 is one of those anomalies: a handsome building arising from a less-than-ideal America’s Cup plan.
Designed by a joint venture between the large firm KMD and Pfau Long Architecture, the 80,000 square foot terminal arises on Pier 27, an extra length pier well-suited for large cruise ships. The new terminal replaces the facility at Pier 35.
In architect Peter Pfau’s words, “the building exhibits what we’ve called a ‘working waterfront aesthetic.’” Clad in grey corrugated steel, the building expresses an industrial chic different from the historic shed buildings that line San Francisco’s waterfront. By using corrugation with alternating pitches, the building skin achieves a pleasing visual variation. In sunlight, the varying shadows from the corrugation and large expanses of glass break up what might have been an imposing façade.
The copious use of glazing allows the facility to maximize the site’s best feature: the stunning views of the bay, downtown, and Telegraph Hill. There isn’t another low-rise building in town with better views.
The cavernous interior is simple and unadorned. That’s due both to the modest budget for interiors and the plan to use the terminal as rentable event space when cruise ships are not docked. Party planners will have a heyday dressing up such an unlimited palette and the aforementioned views will more than make up for any lack of prettified interiors. At any rate, cruise operators don’t really want a terminal full of shops and restaurants; those amenities are already on the boats.
One of the yet-to-be-constructed features of the site will be the 2.5 acre open space between the Embarcadero and the terminal. Open for public use when no ship is in port, the Northeast Wharf Plaza (perhaps a catchier name could be found?) will be another delightful waterfront park that will share the terminal’s great view corridors.
From a technical standpoint the project is environmentally sensitive. Typically, a cruise ship, when in port, constantly runs its diesel engines to power the ship. The Herman Cruise Terminal will provide electric power through massive cables that “plug in” to a ship and allow diesel engines to be shut off. The project is currently submitted for LEED Gold certification. After the America’s Cup competition is over, a smaller support building for US Customs will be constructed along with the Wharf Plaza.
Joint ventures between design firms can be messy at best; in the case of Pier 27, however, KMD and Pfau Long have found that happy medium where both firms styles seem to have blended well. The project isn't a "wow" building nor should it be. Instead, the architects worked within the context of the surrounding maritime environment but adopted a variant expression with the use of the steel corrugated skin. The effect is respectful of the neighboring historic piers while being a clearly modern design. Once the America's Cup has packed up and gone home, San Francisco will be left with a handsome, well composed building that will appropriately serve at the water's edge.