At the intersection of San Francisco’s SOMA, Potrero Hill and Showplace Square districts, a first-of-its-kind building offers an example of the potential widespread success of mass timber construction in the United States. 1 De Haro, a 134,000-square-foot, 4-story office and light industrial project built by Bay Area developer SKS Partners is not only the first cross-laminated timber (CLT) building in the San Francisco, it is also the first multistory mass timber building of its type to be fully executed in California and the first CLT project in the United States to be delivered via railways. We recently sat down with Yvonne Fisher and Lee Ishida of SKS to discuss the unique design process, marketing success and overall industry buzz surrounding one of their latest projects.
Earlier this year, we discussed the advantages of mass timber construction, including its durability, carbon sequestration and natural aesthetic. Those advantages are apparent in the completed construction of 1 De Haro. Its construction tells the story of innovation with respect to a new building material and a new building process within San Francisco. The site sits on soft soil, invoking important initial design conversations on how to manage weight—a challenge that SKS, in connection with the architecture, engineering and construction teams tasked with bringing SKS’ vision to life, met by turning to one of the world’s oldest building materials—wood. CLT utilizes “an old technology applied in new ways, in a market that hasn’t done it before. That is what makes it special,” says Lee Ishida, Senior Project Manager for SKS. “This isn’t your local Home Depot lumber.” Far from Home Depot lumber, the timber used to construct 1 De Haro was sourced from black spruce harvested from the boreal forest of Quebec, Canada. After touring the factory where the CLT was produced, the team was confident that the CLT method met the their structural integrity and light weight requirements (CLT as used in 1 De Haro’s construction is nearly 30 percent lighter than comparable concrete construction), with the added benefits of sustainability, faster construction time and an overall aesthetically beautiful design.
SKS also worked closely with the San Francisco Planning Department and Fire Department, coordinating with them on over 50 inspections to ensure the City was sufficiently educated on CLT and that the project was in compliance and met all standards of safety—from fire rating to structural soundness. While 1 De Haro was the first of its kind in San Francisco, it certainly won’t be the last. “San Francisco is a progressive city, and they want to embrace projects that are environmentally positive and less risky due to California’s heightened fire risk,” says Yvonne Fisher, Director of Asset Management for SKS. SKS blazed the trail with the 1 De Haro project, and their hope is to have created a path for other developers to construct new CLT projects in the city.
While everyone was curious about the success of building with CLT, from city government to the carpenters’ union, the education and partnership did not come to fruition until SKS presented the 1 De Haro project. This close partnership has “absolutely streamlined the path for others” looking to work with CLT in San Francisco, according to Fisher. Because this method hadn’t been implemented before in San Francisco, or at this scale in California, SKS required its general contractor to develop a training protocol for installation, which has since been utilized by the San Francisco carpenters’ union for other Bay Area projects, benefiting the industry as a whole.
Any development project is only as good as its marketability to investors and potential tenants, and 1 De Haro excels on both fronts. It’s one thing to build it, but only when it’s operational and fully occupied can it be considered a true success. Tenants were immediately drawn to the project both in terms of its sustainability and its flexible framework. “As soon as we had entitlements, there was really strong interest in the market. We had three tenants that were immediately sending in offers, and the leasing team didn’t have to make any marketing efforts, really,” Fisher says. From an ESG perspective, CLT buildings are an easy sell for tenants looking to lighter, brighter, sustainable office spaces that meet their environmental, social and governance goals internally among employees and investors and externally to their clients and customers. Tenants in CLT buildings do more than just speak to sustainability—they embrace it from the ground up. “We’re in this change in our market right now in the way people are using their office space and hybrid work schedules,” Fisher notes. “Making your office environment even more welcoming is even more critical, but the space itself has a huge, positive psychological impact.”
Furthermore, 1 De Haro’s success can be defined in part by all its notable firsts and awards:
- First CLT building in San Francisco
- First multistory mass timber building of its type in California
- First CLT project delivered by rail in the United States
- Winner of Woodworks 2022 Design Award: Commercial Mid-Rise
- Winner of AIA San Francisco 2022 Design Honor Award
- Winner of Engineering News-Record CA 2022 Award of Merit: Excellence in Sustainability
- Winner of Engineering News-Record CA 2022 Award of Merit: Office/Retail/Mixed-Use
- Winner of 2022 Forest Stewardship Council Leadership Award
“Everyone knows about 1 De Haro. Even the other mass timber fabricators,” Fisher says. “They might not know us, but they know 1 De Haro. It’s created a lot of goodwill, and I think SKS as a company will always strive to do something that is going to be beneficial for the community.” 1 De Haro not only achieves that through its sustainability, but also in its design. And when asked if SKS would do another CLT building, the answer was a resounding, “absolutely!”
What’s next for cutting-edge industry leader SKS and the market generally? Ishida thinks the focus will remain on sustainability: “net-zero carbon and net-zero energy. We have to do that. There is a focus there.” Fisher agrees and notes that SKS has a project in the works that aims to push past net-zero, to further take away existing carbon in the environment through a blend of CLT and other approaches. “We’re always trying something new to be in front of the curve, to be positively and responsibly contributing to the built environment.”
1 De Haro was well ahead of the curve, and SKS’s utilization of CLT is certainly having an impact on sustainability efforts in San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. As industry standards continue to expand and shift, it is safe to say that SKS will continue to push boundaries and implement new technology to create energy efficient and sustainable projects that are not only successful buildings in their own right, but that provide a clear path to success for other developers looking to create sustainable projects in San Francisco.
An in-depth look at 1 De Haro, including the history of the site and the construction process, is available here.