April 25, 2014

Memo From San Francisco: People Are Talking About

Today, construction cranes punctuate San Francisco’s skyline, evidence of radical changes to come. At the heart of this shift is the $1.9 billion Transbay Transit Center, near First and Mission. Designed by architectural firm Pelli Clarke Pelli, the so-called Grand Central Station of the West is scheduled for completion in late 2017. Currently a four block long and six- to eight-story-deep hole, it will eventually house eight bus transit agencies, shops and restaurants, a 5.4-acre rooftop park, and room for a Caltrain extension and high-speed rail below ground.  

The Transbay Transit Center and the more than half a dozen skyscrapers sprouting up around it will move the city’s central business core south. The tallest among the buildings will be the adjacent Salesforce Tower (also by Pelli Clarke Pelli). Reaching 1,070 feet into the air (more than 200 feet above the Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco’s current tallest skyscraper), the building will include 1.4 million square feet of space. Other glass-and-steel towers growing near the transit center include the 30-story 350 Mission Street high-rise by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, and the 57-story tower at 181 Fremont Street by Heller Manus (which will be the tallest mixed-use office and residential tower in the Western US), and HOK’s mid-block office tower at 535 Mission Street.

Within the last few months, a couple starchitects have been attached to the list of downtown towers-to-come. Rem Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) has been hired to design a 550-foot-tall residential tower on Folsom Street between First and Fremont Streets, 27 percent of which will be affordable housing. And MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang is slated to design a tower three blocks away. Best-known for creating the liquid appearance of Aqua, an 82-story mixed-use tower in Chicago, Gang could bring a welcome splash of originality to the sleek skyline.

Another major transformation is taking place along the Mid-Market corridor. In 2012, Twitter moved into the historic Market Square building at 1355 Market Street, sparking a commercial and residential boom in what was once one of the city’s least desirable neighborhoods. “This project, coupled with housing development, promises to provide instant critical mass in the transition of this troubled district,” says Paul Woolford, director of design in HOK’s San Francisco office. “How all of this plays out—lessons both good and bad—will be of immense interest and influence in future developments.”

In the shadow of the tech industry’s vertical growth, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is also undergoing a major expansion to house the Fisher Collection, one of the world’s most important contemporary art collections. Led by architecture firm Snøhetta, the new building will rise up next to the existing Mario Botta-designed museum. The 235,000-square-foot development will encompass seven levels and offer approximately 142,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor gallery space, as well as nearly 15,000 square feet of art-filled public space. It is scheduled to open in early 2016.

The Firehouse No. 1 by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, located at 935 Folsom Street, is the first building constructed as part of the museum’s expansion. The 15,000-square-foot structure features prominent red apparatus bays, with communication facilities, a decontamination room, equipment storage, turnout lockers, and a public lobby housed on the first of three levels. The mezzanine and second level provide loftlike living areas including sleeping rooms, a kitchen, exercise room, laundry facilities, study, and living areas.

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