City By Design

Sometimes the ideal architectural canvas is not blank but rather rich in character, modest in ornament; a piquant template to reinvent. An existing 5,000-square-foot shell space with dynamic features afforded the ideal starting point for the new headquarters of Novo Construction, a distinguished Bay Area builder. William Duff Architects transformed this raw industrial-type space into a clean, functional and uplifting office that identifies and differentiates Novo Construction as a premier contractor.

The existent qualities of 608 Folsom Street were compelling and part of a well lit, open interior. Thus, the design intention was to accentuate the winsome qualities of the shell in a way that elegantly utilized the materials and judiciously shaped the space—while letting the structure speak for itself. Moreover, keeping the space as clean and open as possible was a priority, while making the interior circulation feel like a greater extension of the space itself.

Stepping into the main entry with its raw concrete walls and columns, patrons enter under a large skylight exuding daylight and warmth; the design emanates from this essential space. The view through the interior is remarkable and exhibits a seamless flow of spaces. The main conference room is adjacent to and readily apparent from the entry volume and is defined by a large wall of glass; the vista extends from the conference room through old industrial windows on the front of the building out to the exterior.

One of the interior walls featured an existing soffit that had been pulled down from the ceiling; this design element was replicated on the other side of the space, which allowed the roof structure to be prominently expressed above the offices. Beyond making the interior feel larger, letting the whole ceiling read through enabled offices to be fully built out along the perimeter yet still feel open
without compromising the efficient layout. Clarity and refinement were achieved by letting the structure gracefully express itself along with the thoughtful yet minimal use of glass, drywall, low-VOC paints and recycled carpet; a kitchen/bar area features a modest array of glass shelving and glazed ceramic tiles that emulate Cor-Ten steel.

By taking advantage of a wonderful existing shell and enhancing its many desirable qualities, William Duff Architects successfully provided Novo Construction with a lucid, functional design within a distinctive, superior office environment.


Mixt Greens is an innovative restaurant that not only serves environmentally responsible, gourmet food, but is an entity that wholeheartedly puts the earth first in all aspects of its business. Recognized as the “greenest restaurant in the Bay Area” by the San Francisco Chronicle in August 2008, Mixt Greens serves organic, sustainably harvested and locally produced cuisine, uses compostable takeaway containers and biodegradable utensils, diverts 90 percent of its waste from landfills and hosts benefits for environmental groups—everything about Mixt Greens is dedicated to minimizing its carbon footprint. So it was only natural that the up-and-coming restaurant’s first home reflect its essential green commitment through an energy-efficient space comprised of renewable, recyclable and environmentally friendly materials. Designed by William Duff Architects, Mixt Greens is a warm, engaging restaurant that wholly embraces sustainability, exemplifying how exceptional, sustainable architecture can be achieved on any budget.

Mixt Greens’ first home was born from an existing shell on Sansome Street in San Francisco; the restaurant’s great success precipitated the opening of additional locations. As is the case with most new restaurant endeavors, budgets were of paramount importance; this necessitated the creation of a first-rate space through minimal yet well-thought-out architectural moves. Moreover, the desire was to create a distinctive design and material palette that could be replicated with the rolling out of new locations.

The primary node within the restaurant is the transaction counter and display case where customers order their salads. At the end of this progression there was an assemblage of existing ducts, which the architect viewed as a design opportunity rather than a setback. A vertical, drywall storage piece encloses the infrastructural elements and ties the space into the larger restaurant. This element takes a C shape and is painted green, providing a functional yet striking design aspect; a much-larger vertical element stands adjacent to the green form and provides additional way-finding and duct enclosure.

The transaction counter itself is made from dynamic Kirei board, a sorghum plywood with great architectural character. Truly a finish material, albeit used as a surface material in this application, the Kirei board emits a distinct horizontality that gives the restaurant an inviting tone. The countertop is a locally harvested slate while the ceiling was left raw with exposed ducts, because nothing is greener than avoiding new material in a space that does not need it.

Sustainability was the design’s driving force, and the architecture includes notable aspects such as the use of all FSC-certified wood products; use of zero-VOC-emitting paints and formaldehyde-free plywood; optimization of energy performance in lighting with compact fluorescents; use of a dual-zone HVAC system as well as temperature and ventilation controls; installation of Energy Star-rated appliances; use of high fly-ash content concrete flooring; and extensive use of natural daylighting.

Exhibiting a laudable and bold commitment to environmental responsibility and preservation, Mixt Greens establishes a new paradigm for genuinely green restaurants, and the architecture reinforces and communicates that dedication through sustainable design.

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