Snøhetta and HGA tapped for new Parnassus Research and Academic Building at UCSF

New Heights

Snøhetta and HGA tapped for new Parnassus Research and Academic Building at UCSF

Aerial view of UCSF’s main Parnassus Heights campus. (USCF/Courtesy Snøhetta)

Snøhetta and HGA will join forces as part of a collaborative partnership to design the Parnassus Research and Academic Building (PRAB) at the University of California, San Francisco.

The roughly 270,000-square-foot lab and classroom building, slated for completion in 2026, will anchor the revamped western end of UCSF’s main Parnassus Heights campus and replace the decommissioned—and soon to be demolished—UC Hall. Designed by Lewis P. Hobart, the 1917 Beaux Arts structure is the oldest building on the original UCSF campus and was constructed as the inaugural hospital in the entire University of California system. Established in 1864 as Toland Medical College, UCSF was folded into the UC system in 1964 and, six years later, gained its current name. Dedicated wholly to health science, the university serves as a major medical and biological research center for the Bay Area and is home to one of the most prestigious medical schools in the United States.

The announcement of a design team for the approximately $700 million project comes a little over a year after UCSF revealed that Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron had been selected to lead the design of a major new hospital at the university’s Parnassus Heights campus, the UCSF Helen Diller Medical Center, with HDR as architect of record. Both the new medical center and PRAB are being carried out as part of the multi-decade, Perkins Eastman-prepared Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan (CPHP) master plan.

While design particulars and renderings of PRAB are not available at this early stage of development, preliminary plans for the facility call for wet labs, computational labs, modern classrooms, and a nursing school. As part of the larger campus revitalization, numerous public realm enhancements in the surrounding vicinity will also be included. As detailed in a press release, Snøhetta will lead the overall conceptual design for the building and landscape and site improvements, while HGA will serve as executive architect and architect of record for the project. In this role, HGA will oversee programming, planning, and project management along with the design of research lab and technical program spaces within the new building. A bulk of those will be set aside for research, and 12,000 square feet of space will be dedicated to education.

As detailed in the announcement, both Snøhetta and HGA will work alongside a “wide-ranging, interdisciplinary design-build team from UCSF in an integrated design and construction center to support collaboration, public engagement, and the development of a holistic design.”

“Our work is defined by collaboration, as we work with stakeholders to realize educational and cultural projects alike,” said Alan Gordon, partner and architect at Snøhetta. “UCSF has become a landmark institution in San Francisco, and we look forward to reimagining this site and the future of the Parnassus Heights campus.”

The plan to raze and replace UC Hall hasn’t been without considerable controversy. In 2014, UCSF announced it would completely overhaul the aging hospital building and convert it into much-needed student housing. In 2019, however, those plans, which entailed extensive seismic retrofitting, were nixed and it was announced the building would be demolished to make way for a state-of-the-art research building now known as PRAB.

A petition launched to save the building from demolition said that the move “not only indicates an absolute disregard for irreplaceable architectural heritage, but an absence of foresight, a failure to recognize the environmental benefits of adaptive re-use, obliviousness to San Francisco’s housing crisis and an egregious about-face by an institution that claims to value and cherish its historical contributions to the medical sciences.”

In addition to the building itself, of particular concern to preservationists have been a series of ten New Deal-era murals by Polish-born Jewish artist Bernard Zahkeim that grace the old hospital’s main lecture room, Toland Hall. UCSF announced in October of last year that it had secured a local conservation firm to carefully remove and relocate the murals to another, yet-to-be-announced location.

As for the new building and the revitalized landscape that will surround it, Michelle Delk, partner at Snøhetta and landscape architect for PRAB, said that the “project will not only serve clinicians and researchers at UCSF, but will include new vistas, promenades, and public gathering areas that will take advantage of San Francisco’s climate and natural context to bring added beauty to the site and campus.”

Brian Newman, senior associate vice chancellor of UCSF Real Estate and vice president of UCSF Health, added: “The two firms see the project site and its topographical challenges as opportunities to open up the interior of the campus and facilitate movement from the PRAB to other buildings.”

As detailed by UCSF, the Snøhetta and HGA team’s joint proposal was selected from a group of four shortlisted entries; in total, 17 firms responded to the university’s request for proposals. The selection committee, led by Chancellor Sam Hawgood, was reportedly drawn to the deeply collaborative nature of Snøhetta and HGA’s winning scheme.