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The San Francisco Animal Care & Control Facility: The Adaptive Re-Use of a Historic Gem

By Julia M. Laue AIA posted 07-27-2021 11:53 AM


In 2015, I toured the existing San Francisco Animal Care & Control Center (SFACC). SFACC is a taxpayer funded open door animal shelter that provides housing, care, and medical treatment to stray, lost, abandoned, and sick animals, regardless of species. It is the city’s only open door animal shelter. I distinctly remember this walk-through of the old ACC building, because it was in bad shape and obviously not intended for a long-term animal care shelter. The acoustics were non-existent between the kennels and the smell was very unpleasant. It felt like the animals were wedged into the building and there was little or no separation between people who were entering the building to adopt pets and the people who were entering the building to surrender their pets—two very non-compatible events. 

This project had a special place in my heart. I had recently joined San Francisco Public Works, and this was one of my early projects as a public architect, after 28 years in the private sector. Also as a lifetime animal lover, it was heartbreaking to see the conditions of this facility. But I could also see that the staff was so dedicated to their work, that they were able to overcome the physical conditions of the facility. 

At the conclusion of our tour, it was apparent that SFACC needed a new home, and with the help and support of various city agencies, we were soon on the road to planning for a new shelter. First, they had to find a space and develop a plan to relocate. As luck would have it the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) was also looking for a new home for their Overhead Lines operation, and real estate wanted to upgrade and modernize an existing warehouse. So as real estate deals often go, we agreed to upgrade and modernize an existing city warehouse for MTA Overhead Lines, and the Animal Care & Control Center would move into the old MTA building. 

Interestingly, this future home of Animal Care & Control was originally the Market Street Railway Company Powerhouse, built in 1893 and expanded in 1902—four years before the great 1906 earthquake. The building had been a part of the operations of MTA for decades. This project would now become an adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of this historic gem.

Learn more: Renovate, Retrofit, Reuse: Uncovering the hidden value in America's existing building stock

Market Street Railway Company Powerhouse

Original Photo of the Market Street Railway Company Powerhouse | Image: SFMTA Photo Archive

After much planning and contractual agreements, our team at the Bureau of Architecture (BOA) and the Bureau of Engineering (BOE) embarked on the design of this amazing project with construction commencing in May 2019 and completion in March 2021, just under 2 years. The result was an adaptive reuse and complete seismic upgrade and refurbishment of a historic unreinforced masonry building. The new structural system consisted of a “building within a building” preserving the historic elements such as wood windows and brick facades. Of note is that this facility is also an “essential services facility”, designed to be off grid for 72 hours in the event of an emergency with a back-up generator and 10,000 gallons of domestic water stored in the basement. This was, in part, a response to Hurricane Katrina when animal caretakers refused to abandon their beloved pets, ultimately putting both human and animal lives in danger. SFACC’s emergency response capabilities will allow people to evacuate with family pets and stray animals, greatly alleviating this type of issue.

Learn more: Existing Buildings: Hazard Mitigation Retrofits [AIAU]

Cross-sectional perspective of the project

Cross-sectional perspective of the project | Image: SF Public Works Project Team, Bureau of Architecture

The resulting project is a state of the art humane structure with 75,000 SF of programmed space, both interior and exterior. It holds the same number of animals in approximately twice the space, with rooms for dogs and cats, reptiles, birds, and small mammals. There are two entrances, one for adoptions and one for surrenders, plus offices, a veterinary hospital, and visitor accommodations. 

Exterior façade after project completion (left) and adoption lobby (right) | Images: Alejandro Velarde

Another unique aspect of this project is that most animal shelters are on one story. This design encompasses three levels and has an occupied roof that includes 2 dog runs and a bunny run. The central courtyard is one of the key features as it has a dog run but also a dog stair with low rise treads and risers to accommodate our four-legged friends. Structurally the stair is also interesting as it is supported through the historic wall via large steel beams on the other side of the wall, so the historic wall takes no load but is retained as a feature.

Central courtyard with dog run and dog stairs (left) and steel support beams for courtyard stair (right) | Images: Alejandro Velarde

The well-being of the animals, was emphasized, with access to light and fresh air, larger animal housing units, and isolation wards for cats and dogs to limit the spread of disease. Also studied were acoustical adjacencies to minimize the impact of predator-prey anxiety.

Read more: Design for Well-being [AIA Framework for Design Excellence]

Aerial view | Image: Alejandro Velarde

One of the most successful features of the project is the Public art installation by artist Favianna Rodriguez. The two lobbies have whimsical animal images over a painted backdrop, and the parking lot showcases a vivid red eared slider turtle (vitreous enamel on glass).


Lobby with public art component | Image: Alejandro Velarde

All in all, this is a fascinating project and a welcome one for the two and four-legged residents of San Francisco. SF Public Works is especially proud to have provided the Architectural, Engineering, & Project Management for this project.

Courtyard at Night

Courtyard at night | Image: Alejandro Velarde

Julia Laue, AIA is the Principal Architect and Bureau Manager for the Bureau of Architecture at San Francisco Public Works where her focus is excellence in Project Delivery and Design for the City's great Civic Projects. She came to Public Works from the private sector in 2013 and oversees 60+ Architectural staff to deliver hundreds of Civic Projects for the City and County of San Francisco, including Rec Centers, Libraries, Community Centers, Fire Stations, Police Stations, Transportation and Public Utility Facilities to name a few. She is a member of the AIA Public Architects Knowledge Community Advisory Group.
1 comment


08-17-2021 11:39 AM