December 29, 2006

High Rise Living And Neighborhood Development In San Francisco

Our recent post on the proposed Renzo Piano towers at First and Mission further fueled the discussion of nearby neighborhood development in general, and sparked some interesting comments with regard to high rise living in specific.

Or as one reader commented, it’s not simply a "mine will be taller...mine will be better located...mine offers nicer finishes" discussion of the buildings or development.

They Just Keep Getting Bigger, And Bigger, And Bigger... [SocketSite]

First Published: December 29, 2006 10:06 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Did anyone read the letters to the editor in the Chronicle today?

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/12/29/EDGOULJ71D1.DTL

The first letter was written by a guy who mistook the Chronicle graphic on the Piano towers for architectural renderings of the project. He asked why the towers couldn't be designed by a world-class architect, hoping the towers would be more like the B of A building! He apparently thought the towers were being designed by the Chronicle's graphics guy.

The anti-towers letters, mostly written by suburban readers, read like a parody of Bay Area anti-everything reactionaries.

Posted by: Dan at December 29, 2006 11:15 AM

Regarding the Chronicle letters, I agree with Dan's assessment. If the past few decades of SF architectural progression had resulted a superior or even comparable alternative to towers, a debate might be justifiable. But, having seen only bland, badly constructed, stucco-covered boxes as the "other" choice, I don't think the anti-tower crowd has a leg to stand on. As Dan mentioned, one of the letter writers cited the B of A (and Transamerica tower) as world-class architecture in SF. At the very least, I do think they are distinguishable from buildings in other cities. To me, that's the key--I would hate to see buildings go up that are simply variations on a theme played out in other cities already. In short, I'm pro-tower, but I'd like to see SF do towers with a fresher more serious approach than it has handled architecture over the last few decades.

Finally, I had to crack up when one of the letter writers wondered how the new designs were getting past city leaders. Isn't their involvement usually what results in great design from the onset turning into the bowls of characterless oatmeal that are ultimately constructed?

Posted by: SeeHsee at December 29, 2006 11:42 AM

San Francisco just does not have the infrastructure to keep supporting high density growth in SOMA. I don't know what it will take for the planning department to get a clue into this, brownouts? gridlocked traffic? The undergound sewage and water systems were never designed to support what is going on and taxpayers across the city will end up paying for it.

Posted by: Dave at December 29, 2006 12:43 PM

Hopefully the city will use some the tax revenue from these new buildings to upgrade the infrastructure. Especially the streets! Sometime it feels like you need an SUV to navigate the all the cracks and potholes.

I also agree with the anti-everything sentiment of the bay area. People up here just don't like change. In Berkeley you can't move a fence without asking for the public's opinion and you can bet they will never allow it.

Posted by: Anonymous at December 29, 2006 1:25 PM

With regard to high-rise living in general, I'm a fan. Four of my six bay-area homes have been in high-rises, and the two I enjoyed least were the two that weren't. I like lots of floors and doors between me and the sidewalk. It's definitely not a lifestyle for someone with a "my home is my castle" mentality, as you always have to be aware that you are in close proximity to others--so certain standards and restrictions apply (if you want to be a good neighbor, anyway). I've always chosen full-service buildings with 24/7 lobby staff and appreciate the security and always having someone to accept packages, etc. Not having to deal with too much maintenance is great, but high-rises are expensive to maintain. You have to accept high association fees and know that, if your building management or board isn't on top of it, deferred maintenance will likely result in a special assessment. And yes, dirty windows can be a bummer if you live in a building with windows you can't wash yourself (which is typical). Posters on the thread that led to this one commented that high-rise living is new to SF, which is debatable. But, it does require a certain sensibility that is common in New York and Chicago. San Franciscans seem to have trouble staying on the right side of the sidewalk, so I wonder if an increase in high-rise living opportunities will spawn a parallel opportunity for "how to live in a high-rise" classes. Maybe at the Learning Annex?

Posted by: SeeHsee at December 29, 2006 2:15 PM

Dont be so sure about the naive "suburban" reaction to 1200 towers. these building will have very little to do with the lives of most "urban " San Franciscans. The condos are likely to costs $2000 per s.f. (they will cost 1200 to 1400 psf to produce) and given the likely unit sizes over 2000 s.f. per unit they will sell at the $5 MIL price range. who benefits from that, precisely?

moreover, these projects will cost over $1 BIL to finance. can this amt of finance be put together for one project in san francisco??

it is being driven by high-rise fantasy....and precisely why does this height make a better skyline? if great architecture is the goal, it can be accomplished at more rational heights?

this structure will cast shadows over union square and many other open spaces accessible to people who will not live there.

also, the 400 foot new rincon towers were analyzed structurally by city officials for 4 years. does anyone know about the structural or life safety issues raise by 1000 foot towers?

anyone even thought about that yet? anyone care?

people have been so completely intimidated by this "vision" that responsible questioning not taking place yet.

wait.

Posted by: realist at January 2, 2007 4:44 PM

"The condos are likely to costs $2000 per s.f."

Not true. They are now selling for 800-1200.

"(they will cost 1200 to 1400 psf to produce)"

Yeah right.

"and given the likely unit sizes over 2000 s.f."

Not true. Many are under 1000 s.f.

"per unit they will sell at the $5 MIL price range. who benefits from that, precisely?"

Only a small number of the penthouses are selling in the 5MM range.

"moreover, these projects will cost over $1 BIL to finance. can this amt of finance be put together for one project in san francisco??"

YES. There is plenty of money to finance these buildings.

"it is being driven by high-rise fantasy....and precisely why does this height make a better skyline? if great architecture is the goal, it can be accomplished at more rational heights?"

The usual anti-development sentiment of the lefty SFers.

"this structure will cast shadows over union square and many other open spaces accessible to people who will not live there."

Are you kidding?

"also, the 400 foot new rincon towers were analyzed structurally by city officials for 4 years. does anyone know about the structural or life safety issues raise by 1000 foot towers?"

SF has some of the strictest building codes for earthquakes. They have thought about it.

You should do your homework before posting such nonsense.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 2, 2007 9:46 PM

dear anonymous - you need to sharpen both your reading and math skills --

the comments above are regarding proposed 1200 ft towers- not the existing shorter towers, which your data appears to be based on.

the economics of very tall structures are profoundly different.

and current code in no way anticipates these structures.

sorry.

Posted by: realist at January 2, 2007 10:07 PM

RE : Renzo Piano and 1200 foot towers in San Francisco. You are living in a dream world!! The “Realist” post comes close, but not really.

Firstly, these towers are UN BUILDABLE.

They have 8,000 floor plates. This is just silly -- this shceme is a too inefficient a structure to get built -- there will only be 60% useable area. From a structural aspect, the cost of engineering a tower that tall and thin is absurd, possible yes, but practically unfeasible.

There is a reason buildings like that don’t get build elsewhere. Planning 2 or 4 or 6 of the same thing doesnt make the problem easier.

Secondly, these towers are UN FINANCEABLE

2,900,000 sq ft area times, say, $900 per square ft avg equals a single building at round figures of $2 BILLION DOLLARS. A project of that size could only be financed in New York or London - cities with 10 MIL population, 250 MIL s.f. office inventory, etc, etc. The global capital markets simply wont support a scheme like this, and a San Francisco sized market.

I am amazed that in a “smart” city like San Francisco, this is getting serious discussion. There are planning problems that actually need to be solved – and this is not one of them.

Posted by: vinod at January 2, 2007 10:08 PM

These last two comments remind me of the self-righteous, self appointed experts, anti-everything peeple you hear at the city council meetings. You can't argue with them becuase they really believe what they are saying.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 2, 2007 10:24 PM

"also, the 400 foot new rincon towers were analyzed structurally by city officials for 4 years. does anyone know about the structural or life safety issues raise by 1000 foot towers?"

FYI, Tapei 101 is currently the world's tallest building standing at 1671ft. Taiwan is also earthquake country so it is possible to engineer a safe building taller than 1000 feet. We just have to hope the city of San Francisco stays strict on its building codes.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 2, 2007 11:36 PM

The article in the bizjournal linked on this site, says the Renzo project is 2.9MM sqaure feet and will cost over 1 billion to build. That is more like 3-4 hundred dollars per square foot to build not 1200-1400.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 2, 2007 11:46 PM

A run of the mill mid rise 25 floor condo project costs $800 per s.f. to build today. its been discussed in planning comission hearings, etc. not a controversial figure really. the biz-j might have just had that part wrong.

Posted by: anon-2 at January 3, 2007 8:54 AM

One Rincon has 407,500 saleable square feet. It is costing roughly $270MM to build. That would be roughly $660 per square foot. It is 55 stories and is in a very difficult place to build as explained by Bovis Lend Lease.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 3, 2007 1:50 PM

Don't forget cost to build is an estimate and includes cost overruns, etc. There's usually a lot of wiggle room in there that developers put in to protect themselves.

I'm not an engineer/architect and have no idea if you can physically build something that tall here. But with the amount of liquid capital floating in the markets today, I'd wager you could definitely finance it and make it profitable.

And the demand is definitely here.

Posted by: Dude at January 3, 2007 3:10 PM

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