Mission Street Substation | Architect magazine
Improvements to the Mission Street substation in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood at the corner of 8th Street provide safety while improving the public realm. Architect William Merchant designed the monumental Brutalist structure, clad in dark travertine and featuring two WPA-style bas-reliefs by local artist Robert B. Howard. Built in 1948, when industrial buildings and infrastructure dominated the area, the project now occupies a transitional neighborhood, with hotels, new housing and apartment towers, the Twitter headquarters and a meeting house Quaker.
PG&E asked TEF to modernize the exterior of the substation so that it would better fit into the changing urban fabric of the area. We wanted something that would provide security and harmonize with the massive power of the building. The design solution replaces the fence and barbed wire with a series of locally fabricated, ribbon-like steel plates – arched together behind the existing concrete planter walls – that twist and turn from an opaque screen at the bottom to an open grid at the top. The station’s ventilation shaft, which had become obsolete, was also reworked. Protected by stainless steel mesh and resin panels, the backlit grille glows softly at night like a lantern.
TEF also designed a valve and, on the 8th street side, reworked the station’s old ventilation shaft, which no longer has its primary function. The shaft was completely open except for the bottom, which was filled with poured glass on three sides. Later this was removed and a steel plate fitted, together with a steel mesh deployed in the openings above, to the top of the shaft. The design team replaced the wire mesh with a stainless steel mesh, running it down to the bottom row and 3form gray resin panels were installed in front of the mesh, to keep the pit free of waste. The whole well has been backlit so that everything glows at night. Lighting is essential to make the area feel safe. The fence will also be lit from the front and the LED lighting washes the faces of the planter walls.
Electrical substations are enduring parts of the city, still performing their original function long after the neighborhoods around them have completely changed. While they can’t contribute to street life like residential and commercial buildings do, that doesn’t mean they can’t be good neighbors with strategic architectural intervention from time to time.
This project is the second in a series of improvements to PG&E substations, designed to meet the practical needs of the utility giant while improving the community it serves.
Architecture: TEF Design
Contractor: Paradigm General Contractors
Structural engineer: Cushing Associates
Civil engineer: BKF engineers
The TEF design team
Amy Eliot, Director
Paul Cooper, Senior Project Manager