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.”