Converting the magnificent San Francisco Main Library in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center into the San Francisco Asian Art Museum proved to be an amazing historic renovation feat. The three-story downtown building, built in 1917, was condemned in 1989 after suffering damage in the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

The renovated building is composed of a concrete frame on 210 base isolators designed to allow the new landmark to withstand an 8.3 magnitude earthquake. A moat around the perimeter accommodates sway during a seismic event.

DPR teamed up with LEM Construction Inc. in a joint venture to serve as the general contractor for the restoration of the exterior granite skin façade and interior renovation of the great hall, grand staircase, and loggia, as well as the addition of a new floor and a 50-ft. tall skylight—a signature of designer Gae Aulenti that now floods the once dark library with natural daylight.

The high-profile rehabilitation and adaptive re-use project consumed 26,000 cubic yards of concrete, 6,000 tons of steel, 30,000 sq. ft. of glass, 50 miles of electrical wiring, and 11,000 sq. ft. of Italian Basaltina stone flooring (the same that is used in the Vatican).

The old Main Library offers 121,500 usable sq. ft. of which approximately 37,000 sq. ft. is allocated to galleries, a 30 percent increase over the gallery space the Asian Art Museum had at its previous location in Golden Gate Park.

The amount of structural renovation required to stabilize and seismically strengthen the building was challenging. The structural work alone took two-and-a-half years to complete and involved the installation of 14 shear walls up to three ft. thick that ran from the ceiling to the basement. Due to limited site access in the highly dense Civic Center area, most of the steel had to be hand-rigged (rather than using a crane). Approximately 1,300 laborers, carpenters, ironworkers, glaziers, plasterers, masons, plumbers, fitters, electricians, and other professionals worked together to safely complete more than a million hours of construction over nearly four years.

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