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How 355 11th Street Won the First COTE Top Ten Plus Award

Custom-designed façade systems, locally-sourced recycled wood, and some organic cilantro

By Zach Mortice

Managing Editor

The first AIA COTE Top Ten award recipient to move beyond the largely aspirational language of sustainable design (if not actual buildings), Aidlin Darling Design’s 355 11th Street talks a green game and executes it just as well.

This first AIA COTE Top Ten Plus award showcases a new level of sustainability recognition, relying on verified, historical, year-after-year past performance. But despite this emphasis on past performance, the jurors didn’t select an older, widely known project far back in the COTE Top 10’s 17-year history that draws its importance from its influence on all that came after it. Instead, the jury chose the Matarozzi/Pelsinger Multi-Use Building, a relatively new project that offers a snapshot of the latest thinking on sustainable design and urban context.

An AIA COTE Top Ten winner in 2010, the building does just about everything right. It’s a mixed-use office and restaurant building built in a regenerating San Francisco neighborhood widely accessible by public transit, thus recognizing that buildings can only be as sustainable as their surroundings. The architects obtained a zoning variance for the project (it was zoned only for light industrial uses) by convincing elected leaders to give this kind of urban amenity back to a part of the city that’s lacked them. Its green roof and permeable surfaces keep rainwater onsite. Above-ground planters mean that chefs grow herbs for artisanal cocktails a few paces away from the bar and kitchen. Solar panels provide much of its electricity. An innovative (and custom-designed) façade scrim system admits natural light and ventilation while limiting solar heat gain and allowing for views to the outside. Local recycled materials reshaped by local craftspeople adorn the restaurant interiors. And, finally, the building preserves a historic structure, sustaining a piece of history in what had become disused industrial corridor.

If 355 11th St. sounds like an over-performing show-boater begging for approval, gold stars, and green plaudits, it’s not. Typical of San Francisco–based Aidlin Darling Design’s work, this is not a building that fetishizes sustainable design and green technology for its own sake. It’s an intimate neighborhood building, coolly restrained from bragging about its lack of air conditioning and tiny carbon footprint.

“Our goal is to have invisible sustainable architecture,” says Joshua Aidlin, AIA, partner at Aidlin Darling Design. “Design is more important than showing you can create green buildings.”

Façade system

The building’s façade system, its most notable and defining formal feature, does much of its energy-efficiency heavy lifting. Both the northeast and southwest face of the building are covered in a perforated zinc scrim, which arose from the project’s sustainability goals, and the need to preserve the appearance of the existing historic building, a warehouse for the early 20th-century Jackson Brewery that Aidlin called “a tin shed.”

The local planning department said that the building (currently on the National Register of Historic Places) had to remain “monolithic” and largely opaque, limiting Aidlin’s ability to add more windows, and thus natural daylight, ventilation, and views, all of which were required for the project to reach LEED Gold (for the office) and LEED Platinum (for the restaurant). So how did Aidlin smuggle in air and light without further puncturing the building?

The solution started with an outer layer of zinc, perforated with one-eighth-inch to one-inch holes. This scrim admits light and air, but especially during daylight hours, appears largely opaque. Behind this outer layer, a four-inch clearance separates the zinc from a series of operable windows—eight in the front, six in the rear—that complete the building envelope and gives occupants control over their indoor environment, which requires no artificial lighting during the day. In addition to letting in appropriate amounts of light, air, and heat, and preserving the historical massing of the building, the system glows softly at night, as light from the interior is diffused by the scrim. The zinc perforations also give the building a rich texture and contemporary appearance. “The byproduct,” Aidlin says of the scrim, “is something that solves five problems.”

Reclaimed and recycled materials

A variety of reclaimed and recycled woods gives the Bar Agricole restaurant a warm and modern sensibility. A massive wood hull made from locally sourced oak whiskey tank strips runs the length of the restaurant over its secondary bar, covering one wall and forming a lowered ceiling, setting the tone for the restaurant’s color palette of multihued natural woods. The bar tops are made from locally salvaged barn beams, left unfinished, with knots and wormholes. The restaurant’s chairs were custom-created from Napa Valley cabernet oak barrels by San Francisco furniture designer Sebastian Parker.

Renewable energy

Solar panels are the only active energy generation system at 355 11th St. The building contains six arrays, two assigned to the restaurant, two assigned to the top-floor office tenant, and two assigned to the bottom-floor office tenant. The office portion of the building has so far generated a bit more energy than it requires, enabling the building to sell the excess back to the power grid. Since restaurants are far more energy-intensive building types, its solar panels generate a bit less than 10 percent of its power requirements.

Green roof and urban agriculture

The renovation of the Jackson Brewery warehouse places new action and activity on the street corner by installing an outdoor dining courtyard on top of water-pervious pavers. Part of reanimating this block and giving the neighborhood some public space to dine, drink, and socialize are the five urban agriculture planters next to the courtyard. There, Bar Agricole grows herbs for its artisanal cocktails and organic food—anise, sage, thyme, cilantro, chervil.

There’s more green on the roof, where a 1,000-square-foot living roof also helps manage rainwater. (Almost 60 percent of precipitation is managed on site). This green roof is planted in three separate sections, each corresponding to its own microclimate. These differing levels of shade and wind were distinct enough to kill off the first uniform attempt at seeding the roof. Now, a mixture of sedums and flowering grasses fill up the two-inch-deep soil bed.


The building’s custom-designed façade system glows softly at night, as light from the interior is diffused by the scrim. Image courtesy of Matthew Millman.

The scrim admits light and air, but doesn’t compromise the massing of the building. Image courtesy of Richard Barnes.

355 11th St. before its renovation. Image courtesy of Aidlin Darling Design.

A massive wood hull made from locally sourced oak whiskey tank strips runs the length of the Bar Agricole restaurant over its secondary bar. Image courtesy of Matthew Millman.

On the roof, a mixture of sedums and flowering grasses fill up the two-inch-deep soil bed. Image courtesy of Richard Barnes.

Bar Agricole at 355 11th St. grows its own herbs for artisanal cocktails. Image courtesy of Matthew Millman.


Recent Related:

2013 AIA COTE Top Ten: A Tale of Two Houses

New COTE Top 10 Plus Proves What it Preaches

2013 AIA COTE Top Ten Green Projects


Visit the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) website on AIA KnowledgeNet.


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