The Exploratorium — San Francisco, CA

New Home for Beloved Museum

The Exterior of The Exploratorium Museum on The Embarcadero in San Francisco
230,000 SF
EHDD Architecture
Page & Turnbull
Nibbi Brothers General Contractors
Wilson Meany
Port of San Francisco
Sustainable Benchmarks
LEED Platinum
Net Zero Energy

The Exploratorium relocated to Piers 15 & 17 on the Embarcadero. The existing Pier 15 building is a historic structure and required substantial renovation to support exhibit space, a 250-seat theater (the Kanbar Forum), and office facilities. The site constraints of the pier coupled with interactive exhibits created some unique design challenges. Holmes overcame these constraints through pioneering performance-based fire engineering solutions, alongside a peer review of the structural retrofit.


Exploratorium Entrance at San Francisco Embarcadero with Visitors

Holmes developed a performance-based fire engineering design to achieve a free-flowing open space and interactive visitor experience. The existing 840-foot-long pier required innovative problem-solving for egress, smoke containment, and fire fighting access requirements. Holmes’ solution incorporated minimal internal fire separation of the building floor area, enhancing functionality and flexibility with safety achieved. Analysis demonstrated that building occupants are able to evacuate the building and pier. This alternative design permitted the building to function as a single large open compartment with a fire protection strategy tailor-made for its use and occupancy.

Strategically-placed fire walls confine smoke spread through open layout.

The Exploratorium catapulted Holmes’ reputation for adding value through performance-based designs.

The Port of San Francisco adapted Holmes’ pier egress strategy as standard methodology, and the Holmes team is proud to support The Exploratorium through membership.

Exploratorium Egress Model Animation
Occupants exiting the building (accelerated egress model)
Occupants exiting the piers (accelerated egress model)
Interior exhibits at The Exploratorium San Francisco Science Museum
Open thoroughfare lined by exhibits
San Francisco Piers 15 17 Exploratorium Egress Path and Skyline Transamerica Pyramid Building
840-foot long egress pier

Holmes also undertook a structural peer review of the piers’ seismic upgrade. The developer enlisted Holmes’ assistance, given Holmes’ deep history of advising the Port of San Francisco (owner of the assets) on waterfront structures. Holmes assessed the capacity of the existing substructure by boat and land, undertook a comprehensive Probable Maximum Loss assessment, and provided input on proposed strengthening measures for The Exploratorium. Holmes delivered a successful peer review that met the project’s schedule, budget, and stakeholder goals.

Interior Exhibit at The Exploratorium San Francisco
Egress Piers 15 and 17 at The Exploratorium, The Embarcadero San Francisco Substructure Superstructure

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