The Rain in SF is Mainly in the Drain

West
Thursday, January 21, 2010
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Islais Creek is San Francisco's equivalent of the L.A. River--it's currently hidden underground. Courtesy Rosey Jencks/San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

The winter rains in the Bay Area, as usual, seem to be too much of a good thing. There’s a fair number of flooded streets and general consternation about this stuff falling from the sky. But if we thought about it differently, it might seem more like manna from heaven. I did a little calculation this morning to see what was going down the drain. Read More

Stimulus Project Bottleneck

West
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
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Pasadena Civic Center, one of the projects currently held up by the state's Office of Historic Preservation

Pasadena Civic Center, one of the projects currently held up by the state's Office of Historic Preservation. Photo by Prayitno/Flickr.

The Associated Press reported on Monday that dozens of stimulus projects in California are being held up by an overwhelmed Office of Historic Preservation, one of  several agencies that must sign off on a government project before it can break ground. The story was triggered by a letter sent by the state’s stimulus watchdog to Governor Schwartzenegger, advising him that the problem will just continue to grow, now that funds from stimulus pump are just starting to reach the states.

Bay Bridge Babylon

West
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
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The new span of the Bay Bridge in progress. Photo by jitze on Flickr

The new Bay Bridge in progress. Photo by jitze/Flickr

Launching last Tuesday, Dave Eggers’ one-time-only Panorama newspaper celebrated the good old days of  investigative journalism with a muckraking piece on the Bay Bridge. Its “above-the-fold” piece, “Unparalleled Bridge, Unparalleled Cost” (which, unlike the rest of the issue, is available online), is a massive 22,000-word exploration into the bureaucratic issues that have caused the new Bay Bridge to be delayed for years and go from an original estimate of $1.8 billion to a final cost around $12 billion. Read More

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Only 18 More Shopping Days Until Shanghai!

West
Monday, December 7, 2009
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A bit of glitz for the holidays, from the office of Charles Blozsies.

What to wear for the holidays, from the office of Charles Blozsies.

Even Union Square, San Francisco’s high-end shopping mecca, sports the occasional empty storefront these days. To beautify a few for the holidays, the Union Square Association brought in four architecture firms to work their magic, a pro bono effort that also “highlight(s) the vibrant creativity of local architecture firms in a whole new way,” says the press release.  A delightful idea–but in execution, somewhat of a mixed bag, as you will see. Read More

Brutalizing Oakland

West
Monday, November 30, 2009
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The main museum entrance is now framed in stainless steel. Photo by Tim Griffith

The main museum entrance is now framed in stainless steel. Photo by Tim Griffith

In the future, will there be a Brutalist Revival? Decked out with stainless steel trimmings by Mark Cavagnero Associates, the Oakland Museum of California is getting ready to usher in a Brutalist appreciation. Or at least a bit of nostalgia for a time when architects couldn’t get enough of the monolithic purity of craggy concrete, before they realized what the environmental costs of melting down rock and reforming it were. The 1969 complex is undergoing the first phase of a $58 million retrofit and will reopen in May 2010. Read More

Window, Window, On the Wall

West
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
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A mid-rise condo in the Millenium Tower, with its lower operable windows.

A mid-rise condo in San Francisco's Millenium Tower, with its lower operable windows.

For the last couple of weeks, every night’s been a party as the Millenium Tower plays host to Icons of Design, one of those opportunistic design events where hopefully everyone wins: High-end real estate is shown off, designers display their creative chops, charities get money, and the public gets a chance to wander through fantasy, “cost-is-no-object” spaces.

Read More

Beyond the Quotidian Landscape

National
Thursday, October 29, 2009
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The natural landscaping at Sea Ranch is the work of Laurence Halprin.

The naturalistic landscape at Sea Ranch is the work of the late Lawrence Halprin. (Image courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation)

The Cultural Landscape Foundation has just launched What’s Out There,a database of landscapes with some sort of historical significance: parks big and small, and various important modern landscapes. Because these public spaces are often part of our quotidian routines, it’s easy to be completely oblivious to the designer or how the space participates in the history of landscape design. Have a look at  “What’s Out There”–a wonderful title that positively invites browsing–and learn more about what is just around the corner from where you are. Read More

The Walled City

West
Monday, October 19, 2009
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Steinberg Architects livens up Palo Alto

Steinberg Architects livens up Palo Alto

At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, let me say that the SF Peninsula’s new Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, which had its grand opening yesterday, is an admirable stab at making up for what we lack in contemporary American society: non-institutional housing for the elderly, daycare for the toddlers, a state-of-the-art gym–all wrapped up in an architecturally interesting package. My friend Angharad, who lives nearby and has three boys under the age of 5, said wistfully, “I mean, I could be Jewish.” Read More

A Beautiful Complexion

West
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
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310 University, designed by WRNS Studio

310 University, designed by WRNS Studio

When architects talk about the “skin” of a building, I realize they’re going techie on me, but I also appreciate the sense of lightness and fluidity that the word conveys. (Did they talk about  “la peau d’un bâtiment” in those Ecole des Beaux-Arts days?)

A delightful “skin” has shown up recently on an office building in Palo Alto, the Peninsula town next to Stanford University. Read More

Quick, See It Before It Melts!

West
Friday, September 18, 2009
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Grow Melt at The Late Gardens in Sonoma

"Grow Melt" at The Late Show Gardens in Sonoma

At The Late Show Gardens, visitors were reminded that one of the temporary installations at this new garden show in Wine Country was, in fact, extremely temporary. A representation of global warming,  the six-foot-high wall of ice was designed by a group that included Berkeley’s Peter Walker and Partners. In the 90-degree heat of  a September day in Sonoma, the wall dramatically collapsed shortly before 3pm. The luminous ice was juxtaposed with thin green columns of cactus reflected in a pool of water–a startling and otherworldly image that could have come straight out of a Hayao Miyazaki movie. Read More

Day 2, AIA SF Home Tours: The House in the Gray Flannel Suit

West
Sunday, September 13, 2009
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Mork-Ulnes house in the Haight.

The “in” color for homes in San Francisco these days is a dark charcoal gray.  If you are boldly angular, the sober color helps camouflage you. And if you are historic, you can declare your modernist leanings by choosing to dial down any rambunctious curlicues.

Inside the several charcoal-gray houses on the tour, it was a dramatically different story. Interior design for modern homes can play it safe, or go out on a limb. You wonder: Is it going to be straight-up Eames/Noguchi/DWR? Too-cool-for-you-Italian? Zen-rock-bamboo? Z Gallerie? Or a quirky mix of industrial materials and antiques? Read More

Day 1, AIA SF Home Tours: Jack Sprat

West
Saturday, September 12, 2009
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Roanoke St. Residence by Apparatus Architecture

Roanoke St. Residence by Apparatus Architecture

Remember the nursery rhyme?

Jack Sprat could eat no fat

His wife could eat no lean

And so betwixt them both, you see

They licked the platter clean.

The last two houses on this first day of the AIA SF’s Home Tours were rather like Jack Sprat and his wife.  In Glen Park, the Roanoke St. house was a skinny 12 1/2 feet wide. Not too far away, the Bosworth St. house was only 42 feet deep.  Each was an inspiring example of how to get out of a tight squeeze. And on this rainy day, where fall seemed to have arrived overnight, modern architecture’s ability to grab whatever sunlight there was to be had was particularly welcome.

Read More

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