San Francisco’s War Memorial Veterans Building Seismic Upgrade and Improvement Project was recently named a 2016 Public Works Project of the Year by the American Public Works Association (APWA). The project is being honored with APWA’s Project of the Year award in the Historical Restoration category at a cost greater than $75 million. This award honors agencies that include historical restoration, preservation and adaptive reuse of existing buildings, structures and facilities.

For 2016, the team of winners includes the San Francisco War Memorial Performing Arts Center, as the managing agency; Charles Pankow Builders, Ltd., as the primary contractor; and San Francisco Public Works, Building Design & Construction, Simpson Gumpertz and Heger, Inc.; as the consultants. San Francisco Public Works provided the Project Management, Architectural and Construction Management services, and Simpson Gumpertz and Hegar was the Structural Engineer and prime consultant. They all will be presented with the award during APWA’s 2016 PWX Conference Awards Ceremony in Minneapolis, MN during August 28-31, 2016.

The APWA Public Works Projects of the Year awards are presented annually to promote excellence in the management and administration of public works projects, recognizing the alliance between the managing agency, contractor, consultant and their cooperative achievements. This year, APWA selected projects in five categories in the Small Cities/Rural Communities area: Disaster/Emergency, Environment, Historical Restoration, Structures, and Transportation.

The San Francisco War Memorial Veterans Building (WMVB) is located in the San Francisco Civic Center Historic District and is regarded by many scholars as the finest and most complete manifestation of the Beaux Arts architecture and civic design in the United States. One of the project challenges was incorporating major seismic and systems upgrades into the building. The extent of intervention required for the upgrades was extreme. New shear walls were constructed around the center auditorium with protection to existing historic framework. Additional horizontal diaphragms were installed, and electrical, plumbing, fire sprinkler and HVAC systems were installed. The historic finishes were protected and demolition and build back was minimized as much as possible to maintain historic fabric.

The building is situated over a creek with a high water table. Underground water intrusion was a constant issue, as the slab, footings, underground vaults and elevator pits were constructed. Extensive dewatering was required while the slab was open.

The historic nature of this building combined with the scale of the intervention required meant that constant attention to unique issues was required. Of particular concern was preservation of the historic Brangwyn Murals from the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition. With new concrete shear walls directly behind these murals, there were concerns about damage to the murals from vibration or curing concrete. A watertight separation with temporary mechanical ventilation was constructed behind the murals, and the mural face was treated with a protective tissue and a plywood enclosure.

American Public Works Association (APWA)

Acoustic separation was also a concern and a particular challenge for this project. The building houses multiple assembly spaces, including the Herbst Auditorium, the Green Room, the new San Francisco Opera performance space and education/media center on the fourth floor, and multiple meeting rooms. Acoustic separation during simultaneous events was imperative. The shear walls surrounding the Herbst served double duty as both seismic strengthening and acoustic separation. At other strategic locations, zones of acoustic mitigation were identified and treated with acoustic dampening elements, such as limp mast barriers, acoustic doors and seals, acoustic wall types, and acoustic ducts & registers.

The overall result achieved is a building that fully complies with current building codes, meets current theatric standards, is handicap accessible, improves life safety and building resilience, and maintains and restores the character of the original historic architecture.

For more information on the APWA 2016 Projects of the Year, please contact APWA Media Relations and Communications Manager, Laura Bynum,, or call 202.218.6736.

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