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Building a Bridge Between Centuries

When global real estate company Pembroke bought a building that has its roots in the steel industry, their goal was to create an office space that paid homage to the past while appealing to the modern, tech-savvy worker of today.

To bridge the gap between old and new, they turned to San Francisco design firm Volume Inc. “Part of our role in rebranding this building was to acknowledge and celebrate its origins, but to also bring it into the tech-driven 21st century,” explains Eric Heiman, principal and creative director.

And with an eye to both the past and future, Volume created a message that could appeal to all.


A Bridge Between Eras
Built by Bethlehem Steel in 1960 to be the company’s west coast headquarters, 100 California was one of the first office towers to be completed in downtown San Francisco at the height of a post-war modernist building boom. Pembroke recognized that the building is a symbol of a bygone manufacturing age, yet the company wanted it to appeal to forward-thinking companies looking for an energizing and communal workspace.

For the branding project, which encompassed messaging, digital and signage, one of the first things Volume and Pembroke thought of was to shorten the building name from 100 California to 100 Cal. In today’s 140-character-or-less culture, “it feels a little more contemporary,” Heiman says.

They searched for other ways to merge the past with the present, too.

“The building history is a compelling story so we expanded on that in both the digital and physical spaces,” he explains. For example, on the website there’s a page that tells a brief history of the inspiration, design and construction of the original building. Inside 100 Cal, each elevator bay also features a facet of the building’s construction story.


When creating the logo, Volume took inspiration from the original Bethlehem Steel identity and designed a mark that evolved it into a more communal, collaborative idea of interaction in the workplace. For all of the design elements, they chose colors that harkened back to the west coast mid-century modern era in which the building was built and still feels contemporary today. Likewise, “the typography definitely speaks to a modern yet humanist and approachable quality,” Heiman adds.

Volume also came up with other design elements that reflected the brand story. For example, they used 10×10 boxes filled with 100 symbols—collections of dots, slashes and plus signs that are a subtle nod to today’s technology. The boxes are then used as patterns to create larger images. For example, they are featured prominently on a map in the building’s lobby that shows where 100 Cal is located within the urban fabric of San Francisco.


Consistent Yet Organic
One thing Volume strives to do is ensure that a brand is not always expressed in the same, monotonous way. While consistency is important, Heiman stresses the need for a brand to remain organic.

“It’s an approach we take a lot, this idea of ‘site-specific’ branding, especially when it comes to wayfinding and environment-based work,” he explains. “It’s thinking about the context of where the brand is being applied instead of just being monolithic and applying the logo and system in the same way to everything.”

When determining these kinds of brand applications, two questions come to mind: What are the functional demands of the space and what are the appropriate forms of communication in that space?


For example, 100 Cal’s lobby houses a steel reception desk. Volume came up with the idea of creating a directory for the lobby made of steel to reflect both the history of the building and to complement the design of the desk.

However, they took different approaches in other parts of the building. For example, an entrance sign located in the back of the building needed to stand out more as a directional beacon so they used backlighting and the color red.

With a bridge between the old and the new, 100 Cal is living proof that a building can mean many things to many people, and the design has to be flexible enough to keep up. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to applying a brand, Heiman says. “It needs to be consistent, yes, but we want to make sure it also has an energy that people can really connect to.”





Author: Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a freelance writer and editor who has written extensively about business, careers and success for such publications as Working Mother, Real Simple, and AARP Bulletin.

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