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4 new buildings that enrich San Francisco

John King, SF Chronicle Urban Design Writer

Sunday, October 5, 2008

 

With last month's opening of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco's crash course in 21st century architecture is now complete.  The academy is the final member of a quartet of provocative buildings that have opened since 2005 and are as contemporary as can be, designed by some of the world's most celebrated architects.

 

Read more at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/05/MN2M139PV7.DTL

 

mn_four_buildings_graphic.jpg

 

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The Big 4 buildings in a nutshell

Sunday, October 5, 2008

John King, San Francisco Chronicle

 

de Young Memorial Museum

Overview: The 293,000-square-foot museum in Golden Gate Park is flanked by a sculpture garden and a children's garden. Opened October 2005.

 

Cost: $202 million

Architect: Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron

Design Hook: Dimpled copper skin, brooding presence, abstract tower.

What the critics said: "With the de Young Museum, San Francisco ... joins a coterie of cities possessed of a new kind of shock-and-awe architecture based not on lurid effect, but on richly articulated intelligence." - Jay Merrick, Independent, London

 

What the locals said: "The exterior of the old De Young was a beauty. What replaces it resembles something the Aztecs might have built if they had need of a parking garage."

 

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San Francisco Federal Building

Overview: The complex at Seventh and Mission streets includes an 18-story tower, a four-story office wing, a plaza and a freestanding cafe. Opened July 2007.

 

Cost: $144 million

Architect: Thom Mayne of Morphosis

Design Hook: A rippling cloak of porous stainless steel drapes south-facing wall.

What the critics said: Rather than obliterate this architectural past, (Mayne) aims to imbue it with the human element that Modernism forgot, the quirks and odd delights that can root a building in personal and emotional territory." - Nicolai Ouroussoff, New York Times

 

What the locals said: "This is quite possibly the ugliest modern building I have seen in quite some time. The Soviets built more appealing apartment blocks."

 

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Contemporary Jewish Museum

Overview: The 63,000-square-foot museum facing Yerba Buena Gardens placed two floors of new space inside a historic power station. Opened June 2008.

 

Cost: $47.5 million

Architect: Daniel Libeskind

Design Hook: Jagged tumble of building additions clad in brushed blue steel.

What the critics said: "There is a lightness to this project that is rare in the architect's work. ... Mr. Libeskind may not have remade or even rethought creation in San Francisco, but he did help part the urban waters." - David D'Arcy, Wall Street Journal

 

What the locals said: "The building is unusually ugly, disrespectful of San Francisco and lacking in proportion and tradition. It should be in Las Vegas filled with slot machines."

 

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California Academy of Sciences

Overview: The 410,000-square-foot structure facing the de Young includes a planetarium, an aquarium and a natural history museum. Opened September 2008.

 

Cost: $488 million

Architect: Renzo Piano

Design Hook: A "living roof" complete with undulating silhouette and 2.5 acres of plants.

What the critics said: "Never before has a public building in the U.S. so persuasively made the case for reconciling the architecture profession's high-design wing with its ecological true believers." - Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times

 

What the locals said: "To see the Teletubbies come bounding around the hillock part of the roof would cap it all very nicely."

 

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http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/05/MNHD13AKBJ.DTL

 

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Just horrible.

 

The Federal building especially......MAN. What am I supposed to feel when I look at that? How am I supposed to relate to it? It's every bit as bad as the monolithic rectangles built by the original modernists. No amount of 'quirks' are going to help, and there is certainly nothing delightful about it.

 

To paraphrase James Howard Kunstler:

 

'there's not enough prozak in the world to make people feel OK about that'

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*hmm. say something nice first*

 

well, i like the piano man's green roof....

 

but let's get real. all of those are as lazy as they are fugly.

 

not to mention building in gg park is by itself is a slippery civic slide.

 

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but let's get real. all of those are as lazy as they are fugly.

 

Why lazy? I'd argue that buildings that copy already established, done-over-and-over-and-over-again styles are lazy. These are trying to establish something new.

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but let's get real. all of those are as lazy as they are fugly.

 

Why lazy? I'd argue that buildings that copy already established, done-over-and-over-and-over-again styles are lazy. These are trying to establish something new.

 

Hello Beachwood, Solon or N. Olmsted!

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but let's get real. all of those are as lazy as they are fugly.

 

Why lazy? I'd argue that buildings that copy already established, done-over-and-over-and-over-again styles are lazy. These are trying to establish something new.

 

Hello Beachwood, Solon or N. Olmsted!

 

LOL .. you would never see this stuff in Beechwood, Solon or North Olmstead. That's the worst comparison I've ever heard.

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LOL .. you would never see this stuff in Beechwood, Solon or North Olmsted. That's the worst comparison I've ever heard.

 

Look at the mass produced developments in those cities.  Don't all the homes look eerily similar?

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LOL .. you would never see this stuff in Beechwood, Solon or North Olmsted. That's the worst comparison I've ever heard.

 

Look at the mass produced developments in those cities. Don't all the homes look eerily similar?

 

What?? LOL .. I'm not talking about mass produced developments. I'm talking about the above examples of modern architecture.

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I think the problem with modern architecture is that there is no structure, rhythm or hierarchy to anything. There is no basis for what "good modern architecture" is. Notice how easily people will point out illegitimate infill? That's because we used to set standards in proportions, context, etc. It's impossible to look at a Frank Gehry and be like "I would have changed this or that" because with such a liberal design, no one's idea has any more validity. Modern architecture reminds me of the hippie mindset that anything goes and no one's beliefs are any better than anyone else's. People don't realize it but that's why they say modern buildings lack "character".

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I think the problem with modern architecture is that there is no structure, rhythm or hierarchy to anything. There is no basis for what "good modern architecture" is. Notice how easily people will point out illegitimate infill? That's because we used to set standards in proportions, context, etc. It's impossible to look at a Frank Gehry and be like "I would have changed this or that" because with such a liberal design, no one's idea has any more validity. Modern architecture reminds me of the hippie mindset that anything goes and no one's beliefs are any better than anyone else's. People don't realize it but that's why they say modern buildings lack "character".

 

That's exactly why I like it, though. :)

 

At the end of the day, to each his/her own, but I just feel like people dismiss modern architecture as ugly because it looks strange, or "different", or they don't have anything to compare it to. But that's exactly why I like it, and I don't personally see that as a bad thing. I wish more people would feel the same way.

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I think the problem with modern architecture is that there is no structure, rhythm or hierarchy to anything. There is no basis for what "good modern architecture" is. Notice how easily people will point out illegitimate infill? That's because we used to set standards in proportions, context, etc. It's impossible to look at a Frank Gehry and be like "I would have changed this or that" because with such a liberal design, no one's idea has any more validity. Modern architecture reminds me of the hippie mindset that anything goes and no one's beliefs are any better than anyone else's. People don't realize it but that's why they say modern buildings lack "character".

 

That's exactly why I like it, though. :)

 

At the end of the day, to each his/her own, but I just feel like people dismiss modern architecture as ugly because it looks strange, or "different", or they don't have anything to compare it to. But that's exactly why I like it, and I don't personally see that as a bad thing. I wish more people would feel the same way.

 

All I have to say is...

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LOL .. you would never see this stuff in Beechwood, Solon or North Olmsted. That's the worst comparison I've ever heard.

 

Look at the mass produced developments in those cities.  Don't all the homes look eerily similar?

 

What?? LOL .. I'm not talking about mass produced developments. I'm talking about the above examples of modern architecture.

 

And i'm using your "done-over-and-over-and-over-again styles are lazy" comment to show that modern some modern arch. is hideous.

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And i'm using your "done-over-and-over-and-over-again styles are lazy" comment to show that modern some modern arch. is hideous.

 

And I totally agree with you. Some of it IS hideous. But not all of it is, in my opinion.

 

Like, that white building in SoHo is beautiful. But if ALL architecture looked like that, wouldn't it be boring? Also, how many warehouse renovations can we do before it just gets really tired already?

 

Anyway, that's me on my modern architecture soap box. :)

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Think of Hausman buildings in Paris.  They're all pretty much the same, but who in their right mind would say Paris is boring?

 

Now imagine each of those Hausman buildings replaced by some monstrosity like those listed above, each at different setbacks from the street (because we know modern architects wouldn't want to be 'restricted'). Can you imagine that? It would be a complete clusterf#$%.

 

These buildings are just egos made out of steel and glass and they arrogantly reject their surroundings and the rest of the great San Francisco architecture.  The only positive thing is that they will make the rest of the city seem that much more beautiful.

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What was once modern will someday be ancient.  In design, concentrate on what future generations will find appealling moreso than appalling. 

 

i.e. see several brutalist structures across America. 

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Well, nothing like provocative modern architecture to bring out opinions.  I will say this about the four new SF buildings, they do attract attention.  And those "local" comments in the article were pretty funny!

 

Whether one "likes" or "dislikes" modern architecture is probably personal preference as much as anything else.  But getting beyond likes or dislikes, I was interested in these four buildings for how different big contemporary projects like these respond to a particular city's context.  And I think how the new buildings respond to the surrounding context can make or break it. 

 

The two buildings located in Golden Gate Park (De Young Museum and Academy of Sciences) come off the best in my opinion.  Probably because the park setting gives an architect more freedom to be creative.  And they don't have all those pesky old buildings and streets to contrast with their creativity.  I do like the De Young Museum for its ability to blend into the park setting.  It's copper skin in particular should patina over time in an interesting and natural way. 

 

The Academy of Sciences building also fits into the park setting in a more literal way with the green roof.  But its low profile and transparency doesn't overwhelm the park.  One thing about both of the park buildings is the troubling tendency of some modern buildings to look their best from the air.  A view most people never see.

 

The Federal Building is more hit or miss.  At least its an attempt to get away from the boring modernist box.  I've usually liked the smaller scale Morphosis projects for their interesting layering and complexity.  But enlarging this to large urban scale can come off as "too much".

 

The only one I don't think works is Libeskind's Jewish Museum.  Its somewhat clever but it comes off as an architectural one note. 

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Love the first one, the federal building looks like an EXACT copy of the CalTrans building in downtown LA, love the Liebeskind, and the last one looks like the Kennedy Center with a lawn on the roof.

 

Modern architecture can be great because it can challenge people's minds and create dynamic space that works in the context of older buildings.  People need to get out of the past and stop wishing to re-create old architecture.  If a developer was to build a building like that SoHo one posted above, people would be clamoring that it was fake and not genuine- and it would be.  Modern architecture creates spaces and environments that can and will be as dynamic as the buildings built a long time ago.

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What the locals said: "This is quite possibly the ugliest modern building I have seen in quite some time. The Soviets built more appealing apartment blocks."

 

Well, I agree with the local opinion of the Federal Building. The others all seem interesting to me.

 

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Love the first one, the federal building looks like an EXACT copy of the CalTrans building in downtown LA, love the Liebeskind, and the last one looks like the Kennedy Center with a lawn on the roof.

 

Modern architecture can be great because it can challenge people's minds and create dynamic space that works in the context of older buildings. People need to get out of the past and stop wishing to re-create old architecture. If a developer was to build a building like that SoHo one posted above, people would be clamoring that it was fake and not genuine- and it would be. Modern architecture creates spaces and environments that can and will be as dynamic as the buildings built a long time ago.

 

THANK YOU. Finally .. man .. I was seriously beginning to think I was cracked for thinking this way.

 

I mean, I just think back to the Breuer tower in Cleveland. People were up in arms because they were talking about demoing this important building, and they were right to feel that way. But it's not important because it COPIED other stuff that was happening in Cleveland at the time. It's important because of the movement in architecture it represents .. the newness it tried to bring. Modern architecture is extremely important because otherwise there would be no room for creativity or originality.

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jpop i meant lazy because the first two firms are just rehashing themselves. i don't see them innovating or improving what they do here, they are stuck in neutral.

 

the leibskind is more ugliness than lazy, although it's both. at least on the outside. hmm, i may give it a bit of a pass as i admit to being rather curious about the interior space.

 

other than the green rooftop stunt, a nice gesture, but architecturally whoop-de-do, the piano is just dull. again, just an impression, based on the exterior. not to mention by its placement it is ironically eating up green space, so even if the the roof had a redwood forest it's a wash anyway.

 

 

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These, most other modern stuff, most of the brutalist stuff, they all have the same problem... they look like they're built for a hostile environment like Mars or the ocean floor. They avoid any interaction with what's around them.  It creates the appearance that the rest of the cityscape got intimidated and ran off. 

 

Look at that federal bulding.  They assume their own interiors are so clever and appealing you'd never be inclined to look out a window.  In case you are so inclined, screw you there's 5 windows and your wing didn't get one.  Am I mistaken in thinking that "porous stainless steel drapes" aren't transparent?  Maybe they are.  The Jewish Museum looks like somebody dropped their keychain on the ground.  Right angles are OK, they don't make you a bad architect.

 

By contrast, that Soho building embraces the outdoors and has no personal space issues.  It doesn't mind riding the bus with you.  Would you want it to be grey or black like modern buildings and ugly-day sky?  No, bright seems to suit it well.  The facade has texture-- rounded columns here, flat ones with a middle thingy up there, it's a party.  Come on by.

 

It's great to rebel, but there should be a cause behind it.  Where does it get us, to rebel against light, straight lines, corners, or having other things nearby?  A lot of these new buildings remind me not of hippies but of nihilistic goth kids, too cool for everything.  WSJ says the Liebeskind building "parts the urban waters."  :?  The Red Sea had to be parted because it was impassable, deadly, an obstacle.  Why would we treat our cities that way?

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Wow, the federal building looks completely different during the day.  I've actually been up by it a couple years back and it looked beautiful in the evening sunset....probablly because all the lights were on too, and the facade didn't look so blank.

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Having lived here 25 years I can tell you that San Francisco, for all its liberal hype, is deadly conservative when it comes to architecture.  The locals do NOT like anything even hinting at cutting edge.  They are leery of it on paper,and truly despise it when built. Mostly things just don't get built as originally planned.

Pretty much everyone likes the deYoung, and the Academy of Sciences, with its faux-green architectural nods.  A grass covered roof and holes in the roof do not green make.  The Federal Building is a blight on the land...pure and simple and everyone hated it from its inception.  And it looks even worse than anyone dared imagine.  I go there quite often and am appalled at how awful it is up close. It looks cheap and unfinished, and the plaza in front makes San Quentin look cozy.  Inside is quite nice actually.  But that stupid roof and those goofy square things....looks like a 3 year old designed it on acid.  The Jewish Museum kind of flew under the radar.  It is in an area of fairly modern buildings, and is tucked away  as to be inoffensive, and is by Liebeskind.  Plus, the Jesse Street substation sat abandoned for years, so anything was an improvement.  I love it. 

If you really want to please the populace here, you just need to reproduce a heap of Beaux Arts trash all up and down Market Street as far as the eye can see, with a few hideously painted Victorians thrown in for good measure. Then it will all look "pretty" and "authentic". 

There actually are a few well designed new buildings around the city, despite the city planning commission. 

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Modern architecture can be great because it can challenge people's minds and create dynamic space that works in the context of older buildings.  People need to get out of the past and stop wishing to re-create old architecture.  If a developer was to build a building like that SoHo one posted above, people would be clamoring that it was fake and not genuine- and it would be.  Modern architecture creates spaces and environments that can and will be as dynamic as the buildings built a long time ago.

 

Really?  I'm trying to think of some modernist urban spaces that are dynamic, active, and beloved.  I'm coming up short.

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Modern architecture can be great because it can challenge people's minds and create dynamic space that works in the context of older buildings. People need to get out of the past and stop wishing to re-create old architecture. If a developer was to build a building like that SoHo one posted above, people would be clamoring that it was fake and not genuine- and it would be. Modern architecture creates spaces and environments that can and will be as dynamic as the buildings built a long time ago.

 

Really? I'm trying to think of some modernist urban spaces that are dynamic, active, and beloved. I'm coming up short.

 

I can come up with lots that I love. But you probably won't agree.

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Modern architecture can be great because it can challenge people's minds and create dynamic space that works in the context of older buildings. People need to get out of the past and stop wishing to re-create old architecture. If a developer was to build a building like that SoHo one posted above, people would be clamoring that it was fake and not genuine- and it would be. Modern architecture creates spaces and environments that can and will be as dynamic as the buildings built a long time ago.

 

Really? I'm trying to think of some modernist urban spaces that are dynamic, active, and beloved. I'm coming up short.

 

Uh...do you leave Cleveland? Try these for successful examples of modern architecture: Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, University of Cincinnati's campus, The Guggenheim, Los Angeles' Getty Center, London City Hall, Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall, etc. 

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He asked about spaces, and he has a legit point.  The only "newish" modern space I'd argue is successful off the top of my head is Millennium Park in Chicago (and really, it's a retooling of Grant Park, much like Fountain Square's revival).

 

Though I will say Europe has some fantastic modern spaces (beautiful one in La Defense in Paris that is well-used).

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Modern architecture hits the ball sometimes.  But it doesn't have a great average.  It is prone to colossal failures-- buildings and complexes that can't make it through one generation.  And it has anti-urban tendencies.  Isolation, impenetrability, disregard for context.  Is it a coincidence that cities have declined with its rise?  We have to keep innovating, no doubt.  But there's something to be said for the urban design principles that have worked for 1000 years.  In a perfect world I'd like to see more of both.

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Modern architecture hits the ball sometimes.  But it doesn't have a great average.  It is prone to colossal failures-- buildings and complexes that can't make it through one generation.  And it has anti-urban tendencies.  Isolation, impenetrability, disregard for context.  Is it a coincidence that cities have declined with its rise?  We have to keep innovating, no doubt.  But there's something to be said for the urban design principles that have worked for 1000 years.  In a perfect world I'd like to see more of both.

 

I totally, completely agree. You said it very well.

 

I think we need to see more of both, absolutely. I'm not saying by any means that we need to just destroy old/classic architecture and bulldoze to the future with modern architecture. That would be a horrible travesty. As I've said before, some of my favorite structures are many, many years old. But I wish that people would keep an open mind to modern architecture and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

 

We cannot keep recycling old building styles. We have to keep pressing onward to the future. However, that said, innovation is just as important as preserving old, landmark buildings. It HAS to be both, in my opinion. I, though, love modern architecture for the innovation and boundary-pushing that it can provide. I personally find new, unconventional forms exciting. And a lot of people feel this way.

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He asked about spaces, and he has a legit point. The only "newish" modern space I'd argue is successful off the top of my head is Millennium Park in Chicago (and really, it's a retooling of Grant Park, much like Fountain Square's revival).

 

Though I will say Europe has some fantastic modern spaces (beautiful one in La Defense in Paris that is well-used).

 

Well then you need to define "space".  I think of buildings as certainly being "space".  A campus, whether academic (UC) or museum (Getty Center), are certainly spaces. If by "space" he just meant parks or plazas then how about Portland's Pioneer Square (although not "modern" per se, it is definitely not traditional...), or the new sculpture park in Seattle, or as you mentioned, Fountain Square.

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Buildings can have a space devoted to it (interior space, for example) but a building certainly isn't a "space."  It's a part of space, not the total thing.  Pioneer Square certainly isn't a modern space (it's just a "re-do" much like Fountain Square, already existing spaces that needed an upgrade).

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Those are examples of "Contemporary" architecture.  Modernism is a movement from the early 20th century.

The fight between traditionalists and people who favor contemporary design... there might not be a topic that has filled up more pages on this site...

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Alright, I HAVE to put my two cents in because I do enjoy many Modern structures. I go to school at UW-Milwaukee which is a Brutalist mecca, and after getting over my initial shock, I've found that most of them are incredibly well thought out designs that are easy to move through, easy to modify, and have plenty of unique architectural ornaments.

 

My favorite example of Modernism is one block from my house in Milwaukee. I like to tell people, "This is what happens when you maintain a Modern building."

 

DSC02733.jpg

 

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DSC02735.jpg

 

 

Now, I know this is just one example...but I'm really worried because this is the only example I could find in my area that has been kept up. We're losing an entire era to the wrecking ball before our society has begun fully appreciating it.

 

As for a Modern plaza that everyone loves...Daley Plaza:

 

Chicago_Picasso.jpg

 

Daley Plaza is simplicity at it's most poetific. The feeling that space invokes in me every time I visit are indescribable. It's almost intimate in it's selective nature. By that, I mean that every detail in that space exists for a reason, and it's apparent.

 

I definitely don't think modern architecture in general should just be thrown by the wayside. But I do agree that formal quilities should be observed when building within a places already established vernacular. Not by necessarily matching every detail, but by adhering to the set proportions.

 

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