A combination of indirect light and modern pendants help turn an outmoded commercial building into urban apartments

»Huntsman Architectural Group's renovation of the Landmark at 333 Grant Avenue, one of the first office-to-residential conversions in San Francisco's central business district, stands as a testament to lighting's ability to alter an existing space for alternative uses. Designed by Coxhead and Coxhead and completed in 1908 as headquarters for the Home Telephone Company, the original 51,000-square-foot building combined industrial and office functions behind an over-scaled classical fa?ade.

The developers had a very specific idea about the nature of the prospective tenants: singles and childless couples for whom this would be a second home. 'Our response to that,' says Mark Harbick, principal in charge of the project, 'was to create a hospitality-driven environment. The lighting is moody. As you move from the street to each unit, the light changes. You feel very tranquil by the time you arrive at your apartment.'

In the lobby, 32W fluorescent cove-lights circle the ceiling, spilling light down the walls. The effect is an understated illumination that accentuates the materials--original-construction exposed brick, and a concrete shear wall (added during a 1999 seismic upgrade) that was sandblasted to create a soft, undulating texture. Adjustable 70W metal halide downlights provide more focused light at key areas, such as above the front desk and over a waiting bench. Among this subdued milieu, a few sculptural elements assert a modernist sensibility, including a customized Poulsen table luminaire and pendant.

The same effect was extended throughout the corridors that lead to the units. Once again, covelights play off the texture of the concrete shear wall, filling the halls with an ambient light, while 50W MR16 downlights spotlight apartment entrances. Sculptural fixtures, such as wall sconces in the corridors, maintain the modernist tone.

Floorplans vary from unit to unit, as does the availability of natural light, so within each apartment the lighting approach is unique. PAR30 downlights were applied in varying degrees of redundancy, depending on the amount of natural light. The one feature common to each apartment is the use of pendants at the kitchen island. 'We hung pendant lighting over each, but we had seven or eight different pendants to choose from,' says Harbick. 'So that if tenants were visiting their neighbors, they wouldn't look up and think, oh there's my light.' The options included high-end decorative manufacturers like Foscarini, Vibia, and Flos.

Getting natural light into the building was the biggest challenge. The Landmark rests on a dense urban mid-block, and its secondary elevations face a narrow alley on one side and a light well on the other. 'We were able to insert large windows on the light-well side of the building on the upper floors that allowed stunning views of Nob Hill,' says Harbick. On the seventh floor, which is double height because it once housed the telephone company's switch gear racks, windows run from floor to ceiling. Skylights were inserted as well, so that the top floor is awash with daylight.

The classical fa?ade, however, is not illuminated, owing to restrictions by the Landmarks Department. 'I guess there are too many over-lighted buildings in San Francisco,' says Harbick. 'But,' he adds, 'we were able to get away with a little.' Ingrade lights, planted in the threshold, distinguish the residential entrance from the adjacent commercial entrance. Some of this light washes over, illuminating the scrolls and columns of the fa?ade.

The lighting success of the Landmark is two fold. The public spaces (the lobby and corridors) emit a uniform tranquility, suitable for every tenant. Inside the apartments, enough attention is given not only to meet the unique lighting demands of each space, but to create a sensation of individuality. At the Landmark, tenants enjoy their own world of light. aaron seward

Aaron Seward is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

project The Landmark Union Square, San Francisco
client Maefield Development, Indianapolis
architect/lighting designer Huntsman Architectural Group, San Francisco
photographer David Wakely, San Francisco