Text description provided by the architects. The Bechtel Conference Center is designed to communicate the values of The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), a San-Francisco-based think-tank dedicated to public policy decision-making through nonpartisan research and dialogue. The Center, located on the ground floor of PPIC’s downtown San Francisco office building, reflects the organization’s ideals of openness and cooperative communication.
The project’s central element, a circular “Forum” for speaking events, literally embodies PPIC’s inclusive, “no taking sides” approach. Though the cylindrical space offers both the advantages of functional flexibility and an apt philosophical metaphor, it created the technical need to counteract the undesirable acoustical distortion that naturally occurs in circular rooms. The acoustical engineers initially warned that this challenge was virtually impossible to overcome.
Undeterred, the architects collaborated with the acoustical engineer, the contractor, and an independent industrial fabricator to develop an innovative system of individually cut plywood fins that both diffuse sound waves and creates a compelling architectural image. The unique fin shapes were designed to achieve both the acoustical objectives set by the engineer and the undulating sculptural effect envisioned by the architect. Milled to the designers’ exact specifications using CNC technology, the completed fins were installed along the Forum’s perimeter walls and ceiling with a system of custom stringers. The spaces between the fins were lined with an acoustic substrate to create variation in the walls’ acoustical absorption and the wood fin surfaces reflect sound waves in a deliberately random fashion, and most critically, away from the center of the room.
Two bespoke lecterns were designed for the Forum and customized for PPIC’s technical requirements. The Center’s less formal meeting venue with windows to the park across the street is the “Salon”; a green room, a kitchen servery, and storage space are ancillary spaces for the Forum and the Salon.
The Bechtel Center achieved LEED Gold certification and Title 24 energy efficiency goals through the specification of recycled and low VOC materials, energy efficient lighting and equipment, and a computer-based system for monitoring and controlling building performance.