Clad with terra cotta and glazed brick, embellished with pinnacles, turrets, and finials, the 32-story Russ Building commanded admiration as San Francisco's tallest building-from its completion in 1927 until the mid-1960s. Designed by architect George W. Kelham, with structural engineering services provided by H. J. Brunnier Associates, the steel-framed office building continued to serve as a proud example of the Gothic-revival style. But in 1992, Wiss Janney Elstner Associates (WJE), hired to investigate and remedy the problem, discovered bulging, cracked, and displaced brick and terra cotta, mostly due to water passing through deteriorated and open mortar joints.
Providing both architectural and engineering services for the project, WJE prepared construction documents, which included repairing the underlying structural steel; repairing and, when necessary, replacing the terra cotta and brick; and cleaning the building. The project's general contractor, Pacific Construction of Burlingame, Calif., carried out the masonry work under challenging conditions, ranging from inclement weather to noise restrictions.
Used on the lower half of the high-rise, mast-climbing platforms provided a more stable work area and greater load capacity, and improved worker efficiency.
Because of the historic nature of the building, the materials were replaced in kind and manufactured to match the original colors and textures. Workers tied the new masonry back to the existing structure using various off-the-shelf and custom-made stainless steel accessories.
Pacific Construction cleaned the remaining terra cotta and removed loose glaze with a micro-abrasive blasting system using low pressures and dolomite powder contained by water. Then they used a biocide to kill the biological growth that caused much of the glaze spalls. Finally they applied a color-matched breathable masonry coating and a silane-based water repellent.
The restoration work cost approximately $10 million and is noteworthy for its creative logistical solutions, high quality, and sensitivity to the historic fabric. The project has restored the Russ Building to prominence in San Francisco's skyline.