February 11, 2010

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble Over 555 Washington

555 Washington Rendering

We’ll call the divide rather apropos considering the controversy that surrounded the development of San Francisco’s iconic Transamerica Pyramid right next door. And later today, "the commissions that oversee the city's parks and planning departments are to meet in joint session on whether to approve the development at 555 Washington St."

Proponents say it is a creative approach to sustainable development that will add a city-owned downtown park and allow people to live near their work. Critics say developers are seeking a laundry list of exemptions to city codes in an audacious move that runs counter to decades of planning and would set a dangerous precedent.
The plan would demolish a nine-story office building at 545 Sansome St. and a single-story building nearby to make way for an eco-friendly 248-unit condo tower and underground parking garage. Privately owned Redwood Park next to the Transamerica Pyramid would be expanded for use as a city park, with the developer paying for its upkeep in perpetuity. Mark Twain Alley would be converted into a pedestrian plaza with outdoor dining and shops.
The project is seeking at least seven exemptions to city rules. It would be twice as tall as the current approved height limit and would shade parts of two city parks protected from shadows. It would also require exceptions to rules on increased wind, off-street parking, truck loading and architectural roof screening, planning documents show. The developer also wants to buy Mark Twain Alley from the city for $2 million.

For the record, we happen to be in the camp of the proponents and YIMBY’s. And not just with respect to its density but also design.

'Battle royal' brewing over planned S.F. tower [SFGate]
Out Of The Shadow And Into The Spotlight: 555 Washington Designs [SocketSite]
In The Shadow Of The Pyramid 555 Washington [SocketSite]
A Gathering Of 555 Washington And Redwood Park YIMBY’s [SocketSite]

First Published: February 11, 2010 6:45 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

The building needs to be (much) taller, slightly thinner, and tapered rather than flared out. It is bulky w/awkward proportions as is. These off proportions all the more accentuated by its needlessly dark skin.

The building could shimmer, be a brilliant, stunning structure by seizing the amazing light and reflection of being close to bay. Instead -- we are moving towards a lurking curiosity like many of the mistakes of the 60s and 70s.

(whoa, imo).

Posted by: Invented at February 11, 2010 8:16 AM

This will cast shadows. Approving it will not help with those who agreed to withdrawn the shadow initiative set to be on the June ballot.

But proponents including the supervisor who initiated the initiative have said they are ready to place a similar initiative on the Nocvember ballot.

Approval will IMO re-invigorate the anti-highrise movemnent.

The developer could win on this one but it will be a shadow victory as it may well lead to a defacto ban on any new high-rises in SF - that is effectively what the withdrawn shadow ordinance would accomplish.

Posted by: Gil at February 11, 2010 8:51 AM

Is anyone else sick of hearing Gil talk about the shadow initiative?

Posted by: Bob at February 11, 2010 9:18 AM

^^^ i'm sick of hearing this city talk about shadows. Ooooo...so progressive.

Posted by: Spitpalm at February 11, 2010 9:26 AM

^^ Yes. The shadow impact of this project is 1%. Not a mis-print: 1%. Oh, and I hear Ivory soap is not pure.

Posted by: OneEyedMan at February 11, 2010 9:28 AM

"Approval will IMO re-invigorate the anti-highrise movemnent. "

Ya think?

I think the opposite. The demographics and attitudes have changed quite a bit here. I am guessing it will be built and few will care

Posted by: Zig at February 11, 2010 9:38 AM

1% sounds low, if that is the correct percentage. But 1% shadow increase is the equivalent of 3 and a half days of complete shadow. Doesn't sound so low when you think of it that way.

As for talk of shadows not being progressive, what is? Dubai? Isn't progressive about finding new ways to improve the quality of life, and aren't good parks part of that?

I'm about 51-49 in favor of the twisty cylinder, but it's not gonna get through right now. It is good meat for a discussion, though.

Posted by: yentu at February 11, 2010 10:04 AM

^^ 3-1/2 days should be bearable - here's the precedent:

Plague of Darkness (חוֹשֶך): Ex. 10:21–29
“ Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt." So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. ”
— Exodus 10:21–23

In the ninth plague, God commanded Moses to stretch his hands up to the sky, to bring darkness upon Egypt. This darkness was so heavy that an Egyptian could physically feel it. It lasted for three days, during which time there was light in the homes of the Israelites. Pharaoh then called to Moses and offered to let all the Israelites leave, if only the darkness would be removed from his land. However, he required that their sheep and cattle stay. Moses refused, and went on to say that before long, Pharaoh himself would offer to provide animals for sacrifice. Pharaoh, outraged, then threatened to execute Moses if he should again appear before Pharaoh. Moses replied that he would indeed not visit the Pharaoh again.

This plague was an attack aimed directly at Pharaoh's deity Ra, the Egyptian sun god. By introducing the plague of darkness, Moses attempted to demonstrate the futility of faith in Egyptian gods.

Posted by: OneEyedMan at February 11, 2010 10:16 AM

The shadow ordinance was withdrawn for a reason. SF already has a strong shadow ordinance, but one that allows for some shadows if the city determines that there is enough public benefit from the project to outweigh minor shadowing.
SF won't vote for an ordinance that will prevent SFMOMA from expanding just because it slightly increases shadowing of Yerba Buena Gardens.

Posted by: Dan at February 11, 2010 10:22 AM

3 and half days is not the right way to look at it. Because that implies that there will be that many extra days where the park has zero sun. Incorrect.

Besides, if you want to take it down that path, why don't you factor out foggy days, rainy days, etc.?

What about factoring in how often a bus passes by and casts a shadow?

Posted by: BayArea Bum at February 11, 2010 10:22 AM

OneEyedMan - Excellent!

I love this and want it built. Taller might be nice but its pretty darned good as is. My understanding on the logic behind the size is not to impact the Transamerica Bldg in the skyline - and there is sense to that. Now I just need to win the lottery to afford a unit in this place.

Posted by: CameronRex at February 11, 2010 10:27 AM

If it were taller it would gracefully entangle, play off of, and actually enhance Transamerica. In its current deference to TA it results in a truncated structure causing distraction to both buildings and graces neither. IMO

Posted by: Invented at February 11, 2010 10:35 AM

Touche, OneEyedMan. Build the twisty and I'll stop worshipping Ra. But he has helped my tomatoes, and he's kept away the giant demon Apep.

BAB, I know it's not the right way to look at it. Neither is saying "it's only a 1% increase". I think your examples actually help make my point that maybe even 1% of additional shadow, when there already are all of these other causes for lack of sunshine on the park, should be controlled/regulated/prevented.

Posted by: yentu at February 11, 2010 10:40 AM

"Isn't progressive about finding new ways to improve the quality of life, and aren't good parks part of that?"

the problem I have with the type of "progressivism" as practiced in the small city of San Francisco is it is highly elitist.

Policy here seems only concerned selfishly with those already entrenched here.

Rent control is the perfect example. It discriminates against blue collar locals trying to form families, young people, newcomers to the city and those who never are able to come at all.

It's selfish and elitist and I strongly believe a small number of people control the process

Posted by: Zig at February 11, 2010 10:56 AM

My shadow.
Change is coming.
Now is my time.

tool - forty six and two.

Posted by: lolcat_94123 at February 11, 2010 11:16 AM

1% sounds low, if that is the correct percentage. But 1% shadow increase is the equivalent of 3 and a half days of complete shadow. Doesn't sound so low when you think of it that way.

Maybe we can solve this with a ballot initiative requiring that those three and a half days get applied only at night...

Posted by: BobN at February 11, 2010 11:46 AM

From the photo above, i feel this building enhances the Transamerica building even more plus it looks to be about the same height as the building to the west of TA thus providing balance.

The height and style imho is perfect, great job by the architecture team.

But i love development, so its no surprise.

Posted by: Kazee at February 11, 2010 11:47 AM

Small increase in shadows downtown, but the redwood park will turn public, especially since redwoods shade the ground anyway. Seems like a decent trade off, regardless of anyone's individual aesthetic sense about the skyline.

That park has not been around forever, and while I'm not a botanist and don't know about the soil, etc, etc, it is fun to think about what the redwood park could look like between the two high-rises in another 25-35 years as the trees get even taller. You can already see the tops poking above the other buildings in north beach in that photo.

Posted by: ljl10029 at February 11, 2010 12:33 PM

That the well-maintained, charming mini-park will be expanded is wonderful news. That it will convert to public ownership is OK. That Rec & Park will be responsible for its maintenance is a tragedy.

Posted by: BobN at February 11, 2010 12:50 PM

"But 1% shadow increase is the equivalent of 3 and a half days of complete shadow. Doesn't sound so low when you think of it that way."

Actually it does sound low to me, 3.5 days out of 365 is a trivial amount.

And fortunately, it's even more trivial when you frame it in the way that it will happen in the real world: just a small amount of shade for a small time and only covers a single point for an even smaller amount of time.

Posted by: lyqwyd at February 11, 2010 3:08 PM

build it. 3.5 days of shadow amortized across 365 days is 23 minutes a day. big deal.

Posted by: nottimhawko at February 11, 2010 10:03 PM

Hmmm, I still see 545 Sansome in the rendering above. Looks like the artist put the new building in the wrong place (by accident?) Which would mean that this tower will not be so neatly tucked into the skyline in real-life. Also, demolishing a 9 floor structure is hardly 'eco-friendly'. I was all for this project when I first saw the renderings, but I like it less and less the more I learn about it.

Posted by: CREO at February 12, 2010 1:10 AM

So you only support buildings as "eco-friendly" when they are built on land which has been empty from the beginning? By that definition, almost nothing in SF can be considered eco -friendly.
I smell a rat. Just admit you are looking for reasons to oppose the construction of 555 washington.

Posted by: Joe at February 12, 2010 8:56 AM

3.5 days of shadow amortized across 365 days is 23 minutes a day.

Bad math. I think you meant 0.23 hours, which is actually 13.8 minutes. Regardless, it's still wrong.

Assuming an average of 12 hours of sunlight per day, 3.5 days of shadow per year would average out to only 6.9 minutes of shadow per day.

In reality, it would actually be less, since existing shadows from nearby structures already lower the daily average of sunlight to less than 12 hours per day.

Posted by: joh at February 12, 2010 10:24 AM

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