November 16, 2012

Frank Gehry Doesn't Heart San Francisco's Big New Buildings

Four years ago we first took a look at who, or what, was to blame for a perceived lack of innovative building design in San Francisco. Yesterday, the New York Times weighed-in as did Frank Gehry:

"People work hard to preserve old things without taking the risk to build something new," Mr. Gehry said about San Francisco in a recent phone conversation.
He was critical of the high-rise building boom under way in San Francisco’s South of Market area, where the newly built towers are boxy and utilitarian. "It’s business without heart," he said.

We’re guessing Gehry won’t be invited to sing at any Giants games.

JustQuotes: What's/Who’s To Blame For “Bad” Building Design In SF? [SocketSite]
Damn That Planning Department To Hell! Oh, Wait A Minute… [SocketSite]
Damn All Those Untalented Architects To Hell! Oh, Wait A Minute… [SocketSite]
In San Francisco, Life Without ‘Starchitects’ [nytimes.com]

First Published: November 16, 2012 8:45 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

To be more accurate, it's about lack of famous architects designing *new condo towers*. We do have non-residential buildings by Libeskind, Mayne, Herzog & de Meuron, Piano, Pelli, and soon Snohetta, just off the top of my head.

Posted by: James at November 16, 2012 9:17 AM

Nothing new in this article but it does definitely ring true. The biggest mistake for me over the past 10 years is One Rincon. Too tall and too bland for such a prominent location.

Lets not even talk about the anonymous boxy designs that have risen in the Mission, Hayes Valley & Mission Bay...

Posted by: Willow at November 16, 2012 10:06 AM

"with much of the area consumed by neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes. More than the pedigree of the architect, the city worries about things like shadows and wind"

^^^Thank you NYTimes, the so-called "urban dwellers" of this city have very surburban tastes and concerns regarding their neighborhoods and central city core. The South of Market / Mission Bay area is becoming the most unimaginative new large urban neighborhood of any important city I can think of.

Posted by: MeierFan at November 16, 2012 10:27 AM

I agree that the buildings in Mission Bay could use a lot more creativity and be less alike, but I thought the New York Times piece was pretty dumb.

San Francisco isn't trying to be a Manhattan on the west coast last time I checked, so the entire thesis of the article — that somehow San Francisco is failing in it's bid to become another Manhattan because unlike that East Coast city, there is no surfeit of "starchitect"-supplied buildings — makes zero sense.

Only someone who's implicitly bought into the notion that the ego of the architect is equal to or more important than the actual building(s) would not laugh out loud at some of the things the author wrote.

Yes, "more than the pedigree of the architect, the city worries about things like shadows and wind and, of course, earthquakes". And that's how it should be. I would add that the quality of the actual building is a lot more important than "the pedigree of the architect", as well.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at November 16, 2012 11:51 AM

Gehry is basically right. There are far too many banal buildings going up in SF. We do not have to be a Manhattan to have good interesting new architecture. There are too many impediments to creativity, and too many ignorant commissioners forcing big box buildings in neighborhoods that should be open to new ideas. Indeed it is not the names that we need on buildings, but innovation.

Posted by: conifer at November 16, 2012 1:27 PM

ORH looks great from some angles and absolutely banal from others, particularly head on and from the southwest.

Posted by: sf at November 16, 2012 3:01 PM

ORH should look much better with its matching tower, for which they are pouring the foundation this morning, btw. More problematic is the new one planned across the Infinity. We'll end up with a forest of Pringles cans there.

Posted by: sfcommie at November 17, 2012 8:34 AM

The issue is not a simple one. Off the top of my head, I could identify a couple reasons for why new development looks the way it does:

1.Earthquake codes demand much stronger buildings, and higher associated costs. Bold design costs more in SF as a result.
2.Developers don't need to compete for cachet when they are in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, so they don't focus as much on standing out.
3.The best (i.e. "most interesting") architectural work in this region tends to be public structures, like the Federal Building, SFMOMA, and the new Warriors arena if it gets built.
4.Nimbyism.

Nimbyism might be first on some lists, but I think the other points are more important in the equation. Nimbysim mainly serves to hold up projects, it doesn't stop them from being proposed and that is where you can observe the lack of creativity.

Posted by: Adam at November 19, 2012 2:58 PM

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