The large, concrete Nike missile silos at Fort Cronkhite, in the Marin Headlands in Sausalito, Calif., historically have been a reminder to many of the Cold War in our nation’s conflicted past. But in 2009, Berkeley-based Noll & Tam Architects (NTA) adapted the inactive 3,000-sq.-ft. structures into a new home for seals and sea lions lucky enough to be rescued by the Marine Mammal Center, a 24-hour animal rescue and rehabilitation facility now occupying the former military site.
The adaptation of the silos was just one part of a large $32-million rebuild initiative that was started back in 2005. The Marine Mammal Center—which had been established as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1975 and can care for up to 200 sea mammals at once—needed to consolidate nearly a half-mile gap among its existing administrative, research, and education department buildings, as well as its animal care treatment site.
NTA collaborated with the Center to design multiple buildings that would aid in improving park operations, providing hospital care for the animals, and fostering a more collaborative work environment, as well as offer a means to extend education to public visitors. A total of five new sustainable buildings were constructed—three buildings for public and employee use (a total of 20,000 sq. ft.) and two maintenance structures to shelter the water systems and other necessary but unsightly operational equipment.
A two-story Educational Center was designed to house a public lobby, main classroom, and retail space on the first floor and administrative offices and functional boardroom space on the second level. NTA needed to factor human functionality into their concept to allow for visitors to have controlled access and visibility of the animals, as well as feature the Center as an educational venue. Upon entering the welcome plaza, guests can see the Center’s operations in real time from viewing platforms above the treatment areas. Interpretive exhibits add to the experience and further demonstrate the Center’s animal-care operations and marine mammal life in comfortable, inviting surroundings.
The second building, also two stories in height, serves as a science facility for the veterinarians and other employees, complete with resource center, common area, and kitchen; while the third functions as a daily life support facility for the daily care of the animals, housing a feed kitchen and other resources staff might need to upkeep the animals’ health.
Since environmental responsibility was an important goal in the overall project, especially since the site’s history and integrity still needed to be preserved, NTA ultimately chose to incorporate a pair of decommissioned Nike missile silos into the design. “One of the two, underground Nike missile silos was adapted to extend the Center’s research library and holds long-term, organic specimen storage. The second silo now houses much of the state-of-the-art life-support-systems equipment,” says Scott Dennis, project designer and architect, Noll & Tam Architects, Berkeley.
“The adaptive reuse of the two original concrete silos on-site as a fundamental part of the building program was instrumental to the design,” adds Janet Tam, AIA, principal, Noll & Tam Architects, Berekley. “We wanted to reuse as much of what was there, blend it into the design, and to make the most of it.”
In addition to reuse, the designers also aimed to make the project’s newer elements as sustainable as possible. Exterior shaded walkways, operable windows and skylights, and radiant heat flooring systems help to maintain temperature and ventilation, as well as control energy use. Steel and steel-wall framing with a high recycled content formed the basis for the structures, while acoustic panels composed of seaweed and 100-percent recycled material serve to reduce noise within the buildings. Limited interior and exterior finish materials also were used to reduce negative environmental impacts.
Outside, native landscape plants require no additional water or maintenance. Natural drainage swales allow the surface water to percolate into the soil, which regenerates the subsurface aquifer and helps to reduce erosion of the adjacent protected lands.
Keeping the animals in mind, more than 30 outdoor pools and holding pens made up about half of the project. According to Tam, this was one of the most interesting parts of the project. “The pens and pools had such a physical presence and impact to the overall design. Animals are what the Marine Mammal Center is about. We paid just as much attention to the animal environments as we did to the people environments.”
Solar shade panels were constructed to provide temperature control for the pools to save electricity and comfort the animals. Approximately, 7,000 sq. ft. of photovoltaic cells on top of the panels generate 18 percent of the Center’s electrical power. Over time, additional PV cells will be added to the covered walkways and roofs.
All materials, which boast an industrial aesthetic with fly ash concrete and cement, feature a low-maintenance and sustainable quality that efficiently stands up to the salt water’s eroding effect. Concrete and black, vinyl-coated, chain-link fencing comprise the visual character of the pens and pools, while black asphalt shingles carry the industrial theme up to the roofs themselves.
“Since people constantly move between working in the messy outdoor and interior spaces, the interior had to be just as durable and cleanable as the outdoor spaces,” adds Dennis. “The material selection also was influenced by the history and original architectural character of the Nike missile site, which also was highly functional, strong, and indestructible.”
While the project itself was never formally LEED certified (according to Tam, the project would have been at minimum LEED Silver but there was no comparable LEED model for this unique facility at the time of completion), it was considered a resounding success to all parties. “We have heard that the Center exceeds the wildest dreams of the users and volunteers. It now is recognized as world-class animal hospital and research center, and the design significantly enhances those functions,” Tam says. “It provides dedicated spaces for the public, research, administration, and education, while at the same time encouraging interaction and synergy among all the different departments and the public.”