The newly completed ferry terminal for the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) creates a crucial transport connection between Richmond and San Francisco. Located 1.5 miles from Richmond’s downtown core, the project comprises of a new terminal for commuter passenger ferry service, an entry gate with information signage, a passenger waiting area, and a gangway and ramping system connecting an existing plaza to a new passenger boarding float. The terminal is designed as an iconic element, visually distinctive, providing passengers panoramic bay and city views, protection from wind and rain, as well as year-round comfort without requiring an HVAC system. The facade is designed with these objectives in mind, and consists of copper-penny-colored metal louvers on the leeward side, and a glass windbreak of bird protective glazing facing windward.
Located within a National Historical Park, coordination among numerous public agencies and private owners was required to integrate the project with the Bay Trail, local roadways, and adjacent historic structures. The design and engineering teams also had to navigate both on-land and at-sea construction realities. For example, to avoid encroaching on the navigation channel while providing ADA-compliant ferry access at extreme tidal conditions, the architects designed the terminal as a sloping building. In addition, the terminal was built to handle 16” of sea level rise, an urgent concern for the Bay Area.
The client and architect teamed up with a local metal fabrication shop, a specialty steel-detailer, and a façade-engineer, to design and fabricate the custom twisting stainless-steel louver system. The metal fabricator was required to develop job-specific custom fixturing and modify the shop equipment to precisely twist the ½” stainless steel plate. Test sections were fabricated, evaluated, then re-fabricated until a uniform twist could be consistently achieved, ensuring the assembled 65-foot-long louvers would have a continuous, smooth twist over their entire length. A full-length mockup of the 65’ façade was constructed in the fabrication shop to ensure that the final over-water louver installation went smoothly. Meanwhile, the striking “Richmond” & “Ferry” signage consists of custom-fabricated stainless-steel letters with integrated LED lighting, greeting passengers from daybreak to nightfall.
To ensure that the Ferry Terminal exceeds its planned 50-year operational life with minimal maintenance, extreme care was taken to eliminate areas of potential corrosion. Isolation washers, tubes and sliding pads fabricated of Derlin, an engineering thermoplastic, were installed to separate the stainless steel louvers from the galvanized steel ferry terminal structure, while accommodating movement due to the thermal expansion of the louvers in direct sunlight. Concerns regarding the potential for seabirds to collide with the all-glass windward facades were resolved by the specification of special bird protective glazing. This laminated glass incorporates a proprietary ultraviolet tinted inner layer with a pattern invisible to humans yet perceived as a barrier to birds who have vision in the ultraviolet spectrum.
The construction team took extraordinary measures to ensure that the new terminal was a good neighbor to the adjacent historic Ford Assembly Building, which stands less than 70’ away. Real-time vibration monitoring during pile driving ensured there was no damage to the Ford Assembly Building’s masonry façade. Careful color matching of the concrete flatwork to the existing plaza allows the modern terminal blend seamlessly on site with its historic neighbor.
The new ferry terminal is first and foremost an asset to the city of Richmond. While San Francisco and Richmond face each other across the Bay, access between them can be difficult. Increased access encourages other Bay area residents to visit Richmond more often, or consider moving there. “Essentially, it stimulates economic development in Richmond,” said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. “Having a ferry here helps emphasize the fact that we are in fact a waterfront city and that we have the amenities that other waterfront cities have.”
The striking aesthetic quality of the terminal amplifies the social and economic opportunities that the construction of the ferry brings: attracting new visitors, jobs, residents, and cultural events to a long-underserved community. In addition to providing sorely needed infrastructure, the terminal is a striking landmark for Richmond along its coastline. Lighting and signage were significant design components, and transform the terminal from daybreak to nightfall. The precisely designed and engineered façade is an iconic element, as are the panoramic bay views.
Its local impact is already being felt, not only as an amenity for citizens and visitors, but as an economic and cultural revitalization catalyst reciprocally cross-fertilizing activities in business and art. In just over six months, the new ferry route carried 100,000 passengers, far exceeding all ridership projections.
Donn Logan and Marcy Wong formed their Berkeley, California firm in 1999. Over more than a decade, the partnership has developed a portfolio of work that expresses their goals of outstanding and environmentally sound design. The firm’s interests span issues of the built environment ranging from architectural expression to technological innovation, to cultural manifestation, adaptive reuse, urbanism and planning. Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects is devoted to producing architecture that is rooted in its time as well as its place, taking advantage of contemporary advances in materials and techniques to execute buildings that are forward‐thinking while remaining sensitive to their context. The firm’s principals have developed a design approach that treats each context – physical as well as cultural—as the seed for a unique solution in architecture.