Restoring a historic building to its original grandeur – Zendesk style
Zendesk, a customer support software company founded in Denmark, engaged Balfour Beatty to help them renovate and transform eight interior floors and many exterior components of a historic building located in the mid-Market neighborhood of San Francisco. The mission was to preserve and honor an architectural landmark and enhance it with clean, warm, sun-light filled spaces utilizing natural and sustainable materials. The building, located at 1019 Market Street, was the former home to furniture and carpet store Eastern Outfitting Co., and provides new office space for the growing company that also occupies a second mid-Market office location at 989 Market.
Rising to the Challenge
How do you bring an abandoned 1909 building in the heart of downtown San Francisco into the 21st century while preserving the historical elements that make it unique and irreplaceable? How do you then strip it down to provide a blank slate for employees to thrive, free of ornamentation and excess, and build it on a supersonic schedule?
While there were many obstacles to overcome to answer these questions—such as external scheduling delays, dealing with historically significant architectural features, and a 10-month schedule—the key to delivering our client’s vision on this challenging project had everything to do with collaboration, careful planning, innovation, and a very creative design team.
For starters, in order to deliver the project on time, Balfour Beatty determined overtime and weekend work would be necessary. To minimize the cost impact, the project schedule was carefully analyzed to select the trades with labor rates that were least impactful to the labor costs. For example, painters worked weekends, but electricians did not because their weekend labor rates were more costly. The extended hours also meant the sequencing of work had to be adjusted to accommodate the availability of material and tradespeople. This sequencing effort was aided by the effective use of “pull planning,” a method of schedule planning that involves a collaborative effort between all project stakeholders.
Collaborating to achieve a shared vision
Collaborative scheduling and design-assist delivery methods helped the team mitigate risks while also serving to accelerate the clarification of the project’s scope. The Balfour Beatty project team; mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers; and Zendesk’s information technology team worked together to address and support challenging infrastructure needs that were critical to the success of Zendesk’s business operations.
The “work of art”
The best part about this project was delivering a building that truly revitalized a historic space while paying tribute to a small part of San Francisco’s rich history—all done to pave the way to create a new future for Zendesk and its San Francisco-based employees.
The final “work of art” includes preserving as much as 90% of the exterior building façade which is made of a tall curtain wall of glass, with lights in the frames that bring light into the building, as well as many other exterior ornamental features. Inside the building, original rafters—California pine support beams—are exposed, original concrete ﬂoors are sealed, and brick walls are now uncovered. Core and shell utility rooms on each ﬂoor have been disguised behind clean white walls, acting as veils. All elements that extrude from these white planes are ﬁnished in soft wood, creating a textured, layered environment.
Delivering the dream
Airy, humble, charming, and uncomplicated qualities are what make up the core of Zendesk’s brand attributes, and were successfully used as guiding principles for design. By including secluded nooks and darkened spaces, the design team created a contrasting atmosphere that emphasizes the airiness of the open office. In addition, organic materials were selected to complement the historic building’s existing ﬁnishes and emphasize Zendesk’s humble qualities. Charm is evident throughout, from the ground ﬂoor devoted entirely to reception, to pops of green cheekily inserted into the calm and neutral palette. Finally, a reductionist approach was implemented, the team looked for opportunities to reduce rather than add. The result is an uncomplicated yet thoughtful space that combines minimalism with warmth.
- The interior space included complete interior improvements including design-build MEP systems, communicating stairway, 400 work stations, 40 private offices/conference rooms, kitchen and several multi-functional areas.
- The historic renovation included a seismic and exterior skin upgrade, complete replacement of all building systems, new elevator upgrades, new PG&E electrical and gas service, interior ADA and public area improvements, refurbishing of existing brick walls and restoration of timber and steel structure.
- Zendesk was one of the ﬁrst tech companies to move to San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood, and the ﬁrst to sign a community beneﬁts agreement. While some tech ﬁrms in San Francisco draw criticism for being too insular, for not integrating with the surrounding community, or for spending lavishly on ostentatious perks, Zendesk has been commended for its lack of pretension and its thoughtful efforts to open its doors as a communal hub for local businesses and residents.
- ZERO HARM: The project team reached a safety milestone of over 36,000 hours with zero safety incidents during its nine-week course. The project included eight floors of 80,000 square-feet with work occurring simultaneously on all levels, by up to 140 people a day; a feat which required intense coordination through active supervision, diligent trade sequencing, and the embedment of a culture of safety and cleanliness from day one.