March 13th, 2016
On this site, ethnicity was displaced.
Norwegian high-pitched roofs, Dutch gables, Russian Orthodox domes, Spanish colonial facades — scores of newcomers have visited upon San Francisco’s skyline the architecture of their homelands. These were built by immigrants, for immigrants, and evinced authentic culture.
In contrast, it is downright disingenuous when an institution dons an ethnic pastiche of whatever culture happens to be in the neighborhood at the time. CCSF’s infill building on Valencia at 22nd, for example, is just such an ingratiating nod to the hispanic culture prominent in the Mission since the 1970’s.
In post-quake Chinatown in 1906, white architects were hired by Chinese Americans to contrive new buildings in an oriental style to draw visitors and support the economy. Pseudo-hispanic edifaces in the Mission however, harbor little of the latino population they were designed to celebrate, since rising rents have driven most from the neighborhood.
I imagine, given San Francisco’s tourist-oriented economy, that city hall may do what it can to keep Carnaval, Cinque de Mayo, and other Latino celebrations in the Mission. Sprinkling new public buildings with trappings from as rich a heritage as Latin Americans bring may be well-intended, but it will leave us with only the most superficial scraps of the culture when gentrification has displaced all those to whom it meant anything.
January 16th, 2016
Influenced by the local color
Most architects just throw out something in hacienda style when they want to reflect the local culture here in the Mission…
December 6th, 2015
I like deconstructivist architecture. I like it the same way, I think, that I’d like a night out on the town with Lady Gaga. But at the end of the evening, I’d rather return to a home like an Audrey Hepburn in that simple black dress.
Home is, more than anything else, our place of refuge. Sure we entertain there. It may be an expression of ourselves. But after warming us and keeping the rain out, its primary purpose is refuge for contemplation and quietude.
November 22nd, 2015
Vapor always finds a way of escaping
Peeling paint in only some areas of this exterior suggests vapor was gradually making its way through from the inside, loosening the bond between the paint and the wall. Behind the peeling areas you’re likely to find a bathroom, kitchen, or other humid area without a good vent. If this were new, tightly-sealed construction, but still without a vent, it could have been worse: vapor migrating into a wall but unable to escape could have led to hidden mold. No wonder building codes are cracking down on proper bath and kitchen ventilation.
November 22nd, 2015
A little goes a long way
All the gold on this façade was done with one and a half packages of leaf, or about $22. Amazingly thin stuff at around 7-millionths of an inch—the same as gold plate—it’s thin enough sunlight can pass through.
November 14th, 2015
“All discord [is] harmony not understood,” noted Alexander Pope. Discovering harmony in architecture, in what at first looks like discord, lends a wonderful richness and intrigue.
Can you sense the order within?
Take this house on Vallejo Street. Study the ostensible jumble of unaligned windows and they’ll slowly reveal the internal layout of rooms and stair behind the façade. A similar work without the underlying order would come off as unrewarding, or simply folly.
November 7th, 2015
Bertrand Russell on conformity, from “Furniture and the Ego”:
“Tolstoy describes somewhere a newly married couple who are giving their first evening party; when it is over, they congratulate each other on the fact that it has been exactly like anyone else’s evening party. Those to whom this is the highest ambition evidently fear contempt more than they hope for admiration, and in so far as they do hope for admiration they hope to secure it by successful imitation rather than by any genuine intrinsic quality. They may acquire taste, which can be learnt by those who take the necessary trouble, but they cannot acquire spontaneous enjoyment of the things that appear beautiful to them, whatever others may think of them.”
November 1st, 2015
The solar energy that today lands wasted on thousands of acres of deteriorating San Francisco roof membranes will in the future be treated as a hotly contested resource. Rooftops will have to be thoughtfully partitioned, with sunlight allocated in proper proportion to roof gardens, interior daylighting (skylights), photovoltaics, and solar hot water (though increasingly efficient PV panels are making it less expensive to heat water with electricity).
With this increase in attention, roofs will likely also become more common as extensions of living space, with a semi-isolation like that of the back yard—refuges in plain sight. Whatever the use, the increasing cost of urban real estate will not allow such a resource to remain vacant for long.
October 18th, 2015
Man over nature
The degree of a street grid’s impact on the natural landscape is revealed here. Note the negligible cut-and-fill at Holly Park compared with the grading required closer to Bernal Hill’s slopes. Freeways get the lion’s share of man’s hubris.
September 20th, 2015
Ordered clutter, uncluttered mind.
T. S. Eliot grew up surrounded by books. Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother covered his walls with architectural prints. Charles Ives was raised in a house full of musical instruments.
But what if Eliot had been raised among the architectural images? What if Ives had been raised with the books? Or for that matter, what if any of them had been raised in the minimalist interiors we see in today’s glossy magazines?
Surround yourself with stuff. It’s as important as a liberal education. Just give it order, and the uncluttered mind we’re all led to believe a minimalist interior would bestow on us will still come.