Missiles to Mammals: Old Nike Missile Base Now Home to Cutest Seals Ever [UPDATED PICS]

Noll & Tam Architects and Scott Dennis Architect turn a decommissioned missile silo into a marine mammal rehabilitation center.

Marine Mammal Center

It's one thing to turn an empty building over to plants—set up a couple veggie carts, like they did in Cleveland, or strap on a green roof. But what about turning it over to animals? And what if that building is a missile silo?

In one of the most unlikely architectural transformations I've seen, San Francisco Emeryville studio Noll & Tam Architects and Scott Dennis Architect, turned a decommissioned Nike missile base in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area into a new home for Sausalito's Marine Mammal Center. The Center has been using the base since 1975, when the last Ajax and Hercules missiles were dismantled, but hadn't done anything with the silos themselves. When they started renovating in 2005, some suggested they abandon the two, 3,000-square-foot chambers. Instead, the designers turned one into a specimen research library and the other into a water recycling plant that cleans and recirculates 200,000 gallons of fresh or salt water to the various tanks around the center.

Marine Mammal Center

It's a big deal: you wouldn't think it, but the headlands where the Center is located can get pretty dry, so saving water is a smart move. It's also hot, and since most of the tanks are outdoors, their temperature has to be carefully monitored and adjusted. Normally, heating and cooling different pools to different temperatures for different animals would make for a nasty electric bill, but the designers outfitted the Center with thousands of square feet of shading panels, which do double duty as solar cells, providing about 20% of the energy for the buildings.

The coolest thing about the design, though, is that Noll & Tam and Dennis kept the silos' military/industrial vibe intact. It's a tricky idea, filling silos with seals, but it works—the raw concrete floors, vinyl-coated chain-link fences, and black asphalt roofing make it feel kind of like a sleek, hipster spa (like the one from Zoolander...) which, if you're a sea lion, it kind of is.

Marine Mammal Center

Marine Mammal Center

UPDATE: The photos above aren't of the silos themselves; they're of the holding tanks (with shading solar panels) and the general facility buildings. The silos house mechanical equipment for the water recycling system and storage facilities for the specimen library — not much to look at. Still, Noll & Tam provided a few more images.

(Silo before)

(Silo with filtration tanks installed)

[photos by David Wakely]

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