RICHMOND RE-INVENTS A FORD PLANT AS HOUSING Thirty years after the start of the historic preservation movement, a debate has arisen in the preservation community on how best to save old buildings. Two camps have emerged: let's call them the Authenticizers and the Pragmatists. The Authenticizers are purists in preservation matters, and believe that buildings should be maintained, or returned, as closely as possible to their original condition and use. The Pragmatists, for their part, see the old building as a point of departure for adaptive reuse. Pragmatists see nothing wrong in making alterations here and there, although such projects, in their most extreme form, risk remodeling the building so dramatically that its historic form may be obliterated. Extreme examples of adaptive reuse cited in Stewart Brand's excellent book, How Buildings Learn, include the group of Quaker Oats grain silos in Akron, Ohio, that were converted into a hotel, and an Italianate house on the East Coast that became a McDonalds. Another example of extremity here in California is the proposed Ford Point in the waterfront area of the City of Richmond. In this extraordinary project, a mothballed Ford factory dating from 1931 is to be converted into 213 units of live-work housing, with some extra space left over for office space and a museum of the building's earlier career as an automobile assembly plant. The building is the last remaining structure on the West Coast designed by Albert Kahn, a prolific Detroit architect who provided both fancy-dress corporate buildings — including the immense, former General Motors headquarters building in Detroit — as well as countless factories that are notable for unpretentious elegance. Beyond its interest as adaptive reuse, Ford Point might symbolize another ongoing phenomenon of recent years: the gentrification of California's industrial waterfronts. Richmond is among a number of cities, including Long Beach, Suisun City and Monterey, that have put a great deal of energy into redesigning their outdated waterfronts into places of recreation, tourism and up-scale housing. We're not going to spend much time on Richmond's waterfront site plan. The plan is admirable in its intent to create a stimulating community on and near the waterfront with an array of uses, including a commercial/industrial park, a shopping center, a mixed-use residential community with 2,200 housing units, the Regatta Center for Research and Development, laboratories for the state Department of Health Services, and a UC Berkeley research field station. The bad news is the physical planning itself is improvised and casual. Here, history has been both a villain and a hero. It was probably difficult or impossible to superimpose a more regular pattern of streets onto the large, irregularly shaped waterfront parcels that are the vestiges of Richmond's industrial past. Still, there is something suburbanizing about some of the parcels, with inward-looking circulation systems, that are regrettable, if not entirely avoidable. There is little cause for regret, however, at Ford Point. Although the proposal may seem improbable at first glance, the actual diagram of the project is convincing as housing. The design is notable for finding new possibilities in the building's existing shape. Particularly ingenious is the way in which designers have fit the units inside the former Ford plant. The live-work units are arranged like rowhouses inside the immense shell of the automobile factory, with pedestrian alleys in front and behind. Each unit is located directly under one of the "teeth" atop the saw-tooth roof of the Ford building, which originally provided natural light to the factory. The added ceiling height provided by the old vertical skylights allows the designers to give each live-work unit a bottom floor, a mezzanine level up half a flight of stairs, and an upper loft space up another half flight of stairs. To provide light and air, the designers have removed part of the roof while leaving the structural skeleton intact. This concept makes the pedestrian alleys into open-air spaces without changing the façade or the basic shape of the building. These alleys form the public or semi-public circulation system inside the immense building. On the exterior, architects have marked these pedestrian entrances with tower-like "way-finding beacons" that stand forward from the historic façade. These are the most conspicuous changes to the original building. The plan also calls for 129,000 square feet of office space, 13,000 square of "specialty retail," the museum and leasing offices. Johnson Fain Partners is the managing architect for Ford Point, and has assistance from Michael Willis & Associates, David Baker Associates Architects (loft design) and Carey and Co., Inc (restoration architecture.) The developer is Forest City Enteprises of Cleveland, Ohio. Despite the creativity of the reuse, Ford Point is one of those rare projects that succeeds as both historic preservation and adaptive reuse. Here, perhaps, is one place where the Authenticizer and the Pragmatist camps in the preservation movement are reconciled. Admittedly, it is easier to build new uses inside the immense shell of a former factory or warehouse than it would be inside a Victorian house. Still, there is more to admire in Ford Point than ingenuity. The scheme has created, at least on paper, a place that looks like a good place to live and start a business. It has found a manner to use the existing spaces and profile of the building in ways that were never imagined by the original architect. And if the housing is successful commercially, the building will be safe for decades. The "extreme" solutions of adaptive reuse don't always work well with the original structure. In the case of Ford Point, however, the extreme solution is also the best fit.