Craig Allison: Constructing the Future

BAM/PFA site during construction
BAM/PFA site during shoring and excavation phase Enlarge [+]
Architecture students rarely envision the construction trade as a career path. While few would argue that design and construction are inexorably linked, design is often assumed to hold the primary role in guiding the realization of a vision.

What Craig Allison (M.Arch ’74) came to learn when he entered the construction field over 40 years ago, is how much influence the construction team actually has on what gets built. “Being trained as architects, we tend to think that designers have by far the greatest influence on a building, when the reality is that the owners who decide what they want to build and the contractors who help figure out whether they can afford it or not have a very large impact,” Allison explains. “I found I can participate in the process just as effectively from the construction side as I could have from the architectural side and maybe more so.”

Craig Allison
Craig Allison Enlarge [+]

Craig Allison is co-general partner of Plant Construction Company, L.P. In his 33 years with the firm, he and his company have been responsible for the development and renovation of some of San Francisco’s most iconic historic buildings, including the Ferry Building, the Flood Building on Market Street, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Presidio Landmark.

Allison emphasizes that Plant specializes in customers rather than building types. One of those customers is UC Berkeley for whom Plant is now managing construction on the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Slated to complete in January 2016, the complex integrates the campus’s long-shuttered downtown Berkeley printing plant with a new structure extending north to Addison. The collaboration between the city and the campus, along with the challenge of the design — including knitting together three separate structures and the stringent environmental controls required in a museum — make this a uniquely complicated project. Allison stresses that the teamwork and cooperation between the city, the university, the architect — Diller Scofidio + Renfro — and the Plant team has been extremely good. “That’s what determines whether we enjoy our job or not,” he notes. “It’s less to do with what we’re building and more to do with who we’re working with and how we’re cooperating.”

San Francisco Ferry Building
Plant Construction’s renovation of the historic San Francisco Ferry Building Enlarge [+]

Since the age of five, Allison has always been interested in building things. A native of California whose parents both attended Berkeley, the architecture department at CED just made sense. Following early project management positions with Bay Area construction and development firms, Allison joined Plant in 1981.

Architectural training and exposure carries advantages in the construction trade. Allison explains, “A contractor’s job is often to hold the line on the costs of the project. If you understand the architectural goals as well as the owner’s needs you can balance those things better. I think my background gives me a decent understanding of what the design of any given project is trying to accomplish.”

140 New Montgomery
140 New Montgomery Enlarge [+]

Today, Craig Allison concentrates on a few projects with long-term Plant clients and managing the overall partnership along with co-partner David Plant. Deeply committed to seeing the company succeed, he is focused on structuring the company or future generations — an obligation he finds deeply rewarding.

This year, Plant Construction Company made a generous gift to CED to establish the Plant Construction Company, L.P. Undergraduate Fund. Matched by the Haas Public Service and Leadership Scholarship Challenge, the purpose of the fund is to encourage those promising hard-working students most in need of a boost. The gift was inspired by a recently retired Plant employee of 40 years, Eugene Hom, who worked his way up from apprentice carpenter just out of high school to become senior project manager on some of the company’s most prominent projects. The fund rewards that effort. “If he had had the educational opportunities afforded to others, there isn’t anything that he couldn’t have accomplished.”

David K. Woo:Continuing to Build a Legacy for CED

David K. Woo ’67 credits his parents with knowing that UC Berkeley was the perfect place for his higher education. Now a successful architect, businessman and developer in Hong Kong, and director of the Hong Kong-based Woo Hon Fai Holdings, Woo made an impact at Cal even in his early years.

Newly arrived as a freshman at Berkeley in 1962, Woo’s introduction to American culture was swift, but he quickly adapted. While an architecture student, Woo became the senior manager of the Cal baseball team, traveling with the likes of soon-to-be major leaguers Andy Messersmith, Bill Nye and Bill Frost.

David Woo
David K. Woo Enlarge [+]

Upon his graduation in 1967 as a member of one of the first classes to graduate from Wurster Hall and the College of Environmental Design, Woo was immediately hired as resident architect for Rothschild & Riffin, the contractors of the University Art Museum, later re-named the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

“I am proud to have been part of the building team for the University Art Museum,” says Woo. “It was a fantastic job for a greenhorn like me… my work really taught me how to build, though it was hard and dusty work.”

The award-winning structure designed by Mario Ciampi has since become a cultural hub in the Bay Area, showcasing the world’s finest art and film for hundreds of thousands of people.

When Mr. Woo left California to make his mark in the world of global business and commerce in Hong Kong, he continued to give back to Berkeley by serving on the BAM/PFA board.

Now CED is honored that Woo has chosen to bestow a gift of $1 million to endow a faculty chair in the College of Environmental Design. This gift is being matched with $1 million by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as part of the Hewlett Challenge for Faculty Support. The David K. Woo Chair in the College of Environmental Design will support the work of an eminent faculty member in CED.

CED Dean Jennifer Wolch praised Woo’s philanthropy by saying, “We are extraordinarily grateful to David Woo for creating The David K. Woo Chair in the College of Environmental Design. This generous gift of faculty support is extremely important to CED and will benefit students and faculty for many generations to come.”

David Woo receiving award
David K. Woo Enlarge [+]

The $1 million gift to CED is part of a major gift of $15 million given by Woo to UC Berkeley to honor his late father, Woo Hon Fai. The Berkeley Art Museum building has been renamed Woo Hon Fai Hall, to pay homage to Mr. Woo’s father and to celebrate this historic building.

The elder Mr. Woo, OBE, was the founding chairman of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the president of the Gold and Silver Exchange Society of Hong Kong, the deputy Chairman of the Hong Kong Commodity Exchange, and the Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong Real Estate Association during his storied career. Queen Elizabeth made him a commander of the Order of the British Empire before his passing more than 30 years ago.

David Woo and family
David K. Woo Enlarge [+]
David Woo and family
David K. Woo Enlarge [+]

Woo, who is married and has two grown children, acknowledged his father’s influence by explaining, “In my life I was guided tremendously by the example of my father, whose hard work and contributions were crucial toward building the Hong Kong that we cherish today. By enshrining his memory, it is my hope that future generations of students, faculty, and campus visitors will learn a little bit more about him and his legacy.”