Moscone Convention Center Expansion Showcases Sustainable Design

WSP USA was part of the design team for San Francisco’s expanded Moscone Convention Center, which is set for a Jan. 3 grand opening.

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When the George R. Moscone Convention Center first opened its doors in 1981, most of the building was below ground level. The intention at the time was to minimize the building’s visual impact on San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood.

“It was originally an underground structure with only modest above-ground features,” said Michael Shewchuk, WSP project manager. “It was functional, but its ‘bunker’ design didn’t really fit into the current neighborhood.”

Since the Moscone Convention Center first opened, three major projects expanded the capabilities and improved the overall appeal of the buildings and its surroundings: Moscone North in 1991; Yerba Buena Gardens, a two-block public park, in 1993; and Moscone West in 2003.

“Each time there was a modification, it was designed to make the facility more integrated into the urban fabric of the neighborhood,” Shewchuk said. “Despite those improvements, the main building still couldn’t shake that bunker feel, and the expanded buildings were largely disconnected from the main building.”

Correcting those concerns resulted in the most ambitious renovation and expansion project since the facility first opened. It was an expansion that added 317,000 square feet of space to the existing building, providing a total of 520,000-square-feet of contiguous exhibit space by connecting the below-grade portions of the existing north and south buildings.

The $385 million expansion includes a new ballroom, meeting rooms, kitchen and support spaces. A four-story structure glass façade has been added to the “bunker”, providing expanded exhibit and convention center space and fantastic views of downtown San Francisco and the nearby harbor.

Two new pedestrian bridges provide key connections between the buildings – one enclosed, and one open green walkway.

“Prior to renovation, people who attended events couldn’t see much of the city they were visiting,” Shewchuk said. “Now the above-grade sections of the building feature spectacular views of the neighborhood. It’s a much more enjoyable experience.”


The building’s transparent exterior carries natural light into its interior public spaces to highlight activities taking place inside the convention center.

Open During Renovation

WSP USA provided mechanical-electrical-plumbing (MEP) and fire protection engineering, as well as Built Ecology high-performance design services for the expansion. The expansion was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in association with Mark Cavagnero and Associates, on behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, owners of the Moscone Convention Center.

Construction occurred over multiple phases, following a schedule that allowed for continuous operation and revenue generation throughout the expansion. The first phase involved infrastructure work, which included moving MEP systems out of the way to facilitate construction; the second phase included demolition and periphery work; the third phase involved significant demolition on the eastern side of the building; and the final phase included the remaining work on the western components of the facility.

“The biggest challenge was the owner’s requirement to keep the balance of the facility in full operation and ensure that it did not impact the shows and conventions that have become established events year upon year,” Shewchuk said. “San Francisco is heavily marketed as a convention destination, and the Moscone Convention Center is a major venue for those events that could not be closed for any significant amount of time.”

Two driving principles for the new MEP system were improved flexibility and user experience. WSP analyzed the existing MEP utilities and systems, resulting in a design that leveraged available system capacity and allowed for the most beneficial use of the project budget.

“Because of the building’s high occupancy, it has a unique classification and is treated with same requirements as a high-rise building,” Shewchuk said. “It’s systems, such as fire protection, had to be designed with that in mind.”

WSP performed studies on the covered walkway, working with its designers to create natural ventilation for that space, creating efficient and effective passive cooling and heating approaches for the bridge.


The Moscone Convention Center’s ballroom will host numerous events, including the annual San Francisco International Auto Show.

Water Reuse

Because of the physical footprint size, the Moscone Convention Center is able to capture a fair amount of rainwater, particularly during the rainy season, and was designed with that capability in mind. In addition, with two stories of the building located below ground and near the bay, it creates further opportunity to capture groundwater through the use of weeping tiles.

“To take advantage of the building’s unique situation, we created a system that enhanced the collection of water and channel it to cisterns rather than to the municipal water treatment facilities,” Shewchuk said. “This reduces the building’s impact on those water treatment facilities by reusing that water for irrigation and other graywater use, and support’s the owner’s Net Zero Water objective.”

By not relying on the city’s pipe system, the Moscone Convention Center’s sanitary discharge costs will be significantly lower.


The modern design of Moscone Convention Center is an appealing addition to its downtown San Francisco neighborhood.

Looking to LEED

WSP designed the building to track energy and water performance, providing valuable feedback to building operators as well as a performance report card to convention planners. These measures allow them to compare their performance to prior years and to similar convention centers, ensure they are maximizing their resources and finding ways to improve building operations and user experience.

The improved Moscone Convention Center was designed to generate less carbon emissions per visitor than any major convention center in North America. It was designed to save more than five million gallons of water annually and generate clean energy with the largest rooftop solar installation in San Francisco.

“It was innovative simply because of the sheer size of the rooftop photovoltaic arrays,” Shewchuk said. “All of the renewable energy that the building produces will be used on site.”

The project is on track to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum standards set by the U.S. Green Energy Council.

“The owners had very high aspirations for sustainability, and even late into construction we were actively looking into ways to improve the building’s performance,” Shewchuk said.


WSP USA provided MEP/fire protection and built ecology high-performance design services for the Moscone Convention Center project.

Cause to Celebrate

Moscone Center is estimated to generate more than 20 percent of San Francisco’s nearly 17 million annual visitors. Improvements to the Moscone Convention Center ensure that the city will remain competitive in this industry, making the completion of this expansion a milestone worth celebrating.

So on Thursday, Jan. 3, a public grand opening event unveiled the new expanded center, with attendance by local officials, as well as representatives from the firms that designed and built project, turning a vision into reality.

Shewchuk, who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago to work on the Moscone Convention Center for WSP, is looking forward to marking a key moment in the 38-year history of a San Francisco centerpiece.

“This is a marquee facility that attracts international attention with the numerous events it hosts, and also supports many events of local interest,” Shewchuk said. “It is very important to the city, and this expansion only enhances its capabilities.

“Reimagining the center was possible thanks to a great partnership between the private entities and the city,” he added. “It has been my honor to represent WSP as a part of its creation.”

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The expansion added 317,000 square feet to the existing Moscone Convention Center, which now has 520,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space.

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