Firm management

Collaborative contracts help expedite San Francisco’s 399 Fremont skyscraper

By AIA Contract Documents

399 Fremont includes one of the world’s tallest solar water heating installations reducing hot water heating energy by 30%.

With its curved exterior glass walls and distinctive roof, the LEED silver-certified 399 Fremont is not just a spectacular addition to the skyline of San Francisco’s Rincon Hill district; it’s a testament to close coordination and environmental care.

Developed through a joint venture of UDR and MetLife, this architecturally striking 42-story residential tower features a number of systems designed to minimize energy and water consumption-from its distinctive architectural solar panel roof feature that pre-heats water to its 100% LED lighting. In fact, the building maintains one of the world’s tallest solar water heating installations—a system designed to reduce hot water heating energy by 30 percent, eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the carbon footprint of the structure.

From contracts through construction, here’s how the owners, architects, contractors and specialty trades reshaped one of the region’s major proposed urban infill projects into an impressive 596,000-square-foot luxury residential high-rise.

Performance focused

The concept for the 399 Fremont development had been envisioned for almost a decade, with a number of stops and starts over those years, largely related to the recession. The project moved closer to reality in 2013 when UDR teamed with MetLife in a joint venture to invest in the construction of a high-rise that balances energy efficiency with elegant design.

As an entitled property, 399 Fremont’s envelope was firmly established in terms of height, setbacks and volume. The joint venture team looked to Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB), an architecture and interior design firm known for forward thinking and  sustainable solutions and specialized expertise in high-rise buildings, to design a sustainable structure with character.

“UDR challenged us to design a structure that was energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing within the entitled envelope,” confirmed Peter Noone, Managing Principal for SCB. “Given the seismic conditions and codes of the area, prescriptive design at the time resulted a boxy building with small punched window opening. However, UDR wanted a tall and sleek structure with more glass on the outside and to create an energy efficient, high-end residential community inside.”

With a performance-based structural design top of mind, SCB teamed with Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA), one of the area’s top structural design engineers and a long-time collaborator with the firm. The result was a lighter structural system and a more open and transparent façade.

The tower has 447 residential units on 42 floors, and 25,000 square feet of amenity space.

For the mechanical systems, SCB worked with CB Engineers, also based in San Francisco. Noone said, “In San Francisco, almost all MEP and fire protection systems in residential buildings are procured through a design-build project delivery method. We worked with CB Engineers to develop the basis of design, including a skinny split system.”

The owner bid the project as a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) delivery with construction set to begin in January 2014.

“Unfortunately,” Noone said, “at the time of the bid, we weren’t close to 50% of design development. There was a lot of pressure on us to get scope identified in the early phase of design development so that we could sign an agreement with the contractor once the project was awarded.”

Swinerton won the contract to build the structure and the real work began.

Noone added, “The biggest challenge for all of us was staying within the GMP scope with incomplete design documents while the building was under construction, a task facilitated by the contract documents.”

A foundation with flexibility

From inception, SCB relied on AIA’s B101-Owner/Architect plus associated administrative G-forms to work with UDR and the C401, Architect/ Consultant to work with the MKA and CB Engineers.

When asked about the importance of these documents, Noone said, “Residential commercial developments with high energy efficiency requirements such as 399 Fremont require close collaboration between the design team and contractors throughout the process to ensure energy goals are met within a fixed budget. Contract documents are the foundation for that relationship.”

“The AIA is a trusted brand, and that extends into its documents. All parties know that any risks have been considered and addressed in an even-handed manner,” he added. “I try to stick to the AIA documents throughout the entire construction process. These are time-tested documents that offer enough flexibility in which language can be tweaked to address any project-specific concerns.”

He also points to the consistency of these documents in the face of so many project delivery methods.

“There’s a branding with the AIA documents, and all parties know that the risks are addressed in an even-handed manner,” he added. “When it comes to things within the construction process, I try to stick to the AIA documents across the board. These are time-tested documents that allow flexibility to tweak language to address specific concerns.”

The benefits of those contracts and the resulting strong working relationship between the design and construction team would become readily evident on the 399 Fremont project as construction progressed.

Risks and rewards

One of the first areas of coordination and collaboration between SCB and CB Engineers was water and energy solutions to meet the LEED silver certification.

399 Fremont is believed to be the first for-lease high rise in the U.S. to utilize 100% LED lighting throughout the building.

The top floor common area, “sky lounge”, includes an outdoor terrace overlooking the San Francisco skyline.

In addition, the project team used a skinny-split heat-pump system to improve the efficiency of the heating and air conditioning units. A skinny-split system is smaller and more energy efficient—both big benefits in apartment living.

Another energy saving solution was the design cycle, with construction ongoing at the site. The signature sloped rooftop was originally designed to cant in a northerly direction. SCB proposed re-orienting the slope to better complement the skyline and, better yet, to create a broad southern exposure surface that would be ideal for hosting a solar water-heating installation.

Working with the MEP engineer and subcontractors, the team designed a complete solar water-heating system that sits 400 feet above the ground. It saves an estimated 12,000 therms of energy annually and reduces hot-water heating energy by 30%.

Another issue that we dealt with in the design of the project was related to the glazing on the top of the building.  “The transparent roof of the building attracted migratory birds,” said Noone. “We had to develop a pattern on the glass that worked with the design of the building that allowed the birds to “see” the building and not fly into the glass.”

The skyscraper incorporates a number of other design solutions that resulted from the close team collaboration. For instance, MKA designed the two portions of the building to move independently of one another via a large seismic joint, the curtain wall manufacturer Yuanda incorporated a large active joint in the case of a seismic event, and engineers at Arup conducted thermal comfort analyses within the units to ensure efficiency and comfort throughout the day.

Noone concluded, “This was a great contractor team to work with—among the best that I’ve ever had. That working relationship solidified by the contractual documents helped us meet the owner’s goals and produce a beautiful, energy efficient building.”

399 Fremont was completed in April 2016, at the time, one of the first major urban infill projects to be completed in the Rincon Hill area.

Award Winning

2016 ENR Global Best Projects – Award of Merit, Residential/Hospitality

2016 ENR California Best Project – Northern California, Residential/Hospitality