Engineering Unique Structures

Throughout my 18 year career at KPFF, many challenging and sometimes odd components have required structural engineering. Here are just a few of the more unique projects I’ve worked on.

Clif Bar Headquarters - Emeryville

Clif Bar collaborated with architecture firm ZGF on a headquarters that would physically embody its active, outdoors-oriented brand. One concept was sculptural elements suspended from the ceiling, representing customers’ and employees’ active lifestyles. The idea was to assemble organic forms from sports equipment like kayaks, snowboards and bicycles. Our job was to help them create lotus flowers, a DNA helix and a comet.

To create a double helix from kayaking equipment, we developed a structural system to stabilized the piece and create a rotational effect. A ½” steel cable was strung from existing timber columns through kayaks and paddles. We hung a cable from the roof in a parabolic shape, then ran an additional cable through paddles before fastening them to a pipe bolted to the columns.

When the pipes were rotated, the Kayak Helix was born. 


Bunny Statue - San Francisco

San Francisco poses many special challenges for engineers and developers, but building a podium for an evil cartoon rabbit was definitely a new one for me.

The Silly Pink Bunny Statue is a beloved San Francisco neighborhood icon that stood at the corner of Haight and Laguna. Unfortunately, it was in the path of the Alchemy by Alta residences (a collaboration with BAR Architects), a project adding 330 much needed housing units to the Lower Haight.

Luckily the developer saw the importance of preserving this popular piece to maintain the neighborhood’s character. A new spot nearby was designated for a 1500-pound duplicate to be cast in bronze by the artist Jeremy Fish.

We designed a large concrete slab that ensures the celebrated statue will continue to greet Lower Haight neighbors from its new perch. Because what neighborhood wouldn’t want a little extra security from a Giant Bronze Bunny?


Moore Foundation Glass Pedestrian Bridge – San Francisco

Noted Bay Area philanthropic organization The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was ready to remodel its tilt-up concrete building. The office layout separated its staff into office space on either side of the lobby. Moore’s desired solution was to add a bridge to link both sides together.

We worked with HPS Architects on the challenge to make the footbridge look as if it is cantilevered off a Glulam timber beam. To do this we anchored one side of the bridge to the base of the beam, and hung the other side from tubular steel hangars – balancing the load.

The stunning glass and wood bridge extends across the lobby and dramatically brings together both sides of the office.


Stanford Highland Hall Feature Staircase and Steel Sculpture – Stanford

Highland Hall is the first residential building (designed by Legoretta and Steinberg Architects) on the Stanford Campus to be designed for an enhanced seismic performance criteria, providing Class 2, or “function critical” performance as defined by the University’s Seismic Engineering. KPFF collaborated with Stanford to explore the benefits and impacts of designing on-campus student housing for enhanced seismic criteria.

The tower in Highland Hall’s reception courtyard features a dramatic, open-faced stair. Steel framing supports the precast concrete stairs, above which the roof cantilevers thirteen feet in two directions. Moment frames brace the stair tower in one direction, and wood shear walls resist lateral loads in the other direction. The tower is laterally tied to the building, and the design accounted for the added seismic mass and different stiffness of the steel and timber systems.

The third courtyard features a twenty-eight-foot-tall corrugated, corten steel sculpture that clads the building and is suspended from the fourth floor spanning down to the second floor. The sculpture is attached to a column-free area of the building supported by beams at each floor. To allow for thermal growth of the steel the entire weight of the sculpture is supported by the fourth floor.

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