Growing by the Bay

Category: architecture

Gabion Retaining Walls

<em>Rising Cairn</em>, by <a href="">Celeste Roberge</a>. Welded galvanized steel and granite, 58" x 54" x 43". Collection: Runnymede Sculpture Farm, Woodside, California.

Rising Cairn, by Celeste Roberge. Welded galvanized steel and granite, 58″ x 54″ x 43″. Collection: Runnymede Sculpture Farm, Woodside, California.

Recently I posted on my Facebook timeline a photo of gabion materials I had ordered to replace a concrete retaining wall that had failed. Some people were unfamiliar with gabions and asked to know more about this ancient construction technique.

San Francisco’s historic Hallidie Building

The Hallidie Building seen from Crocker Galleria Garden Terrace.

The Hallidie Building seen from Crocker Galleria Garden Terrace.

Among the historic buildings of San Francisco is the Hallidie Building, located at 130 Sutter Street, between Montgomery and Keary Streets in the Financial District. It was listed as a Designated San Francisco Landmark in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Though named in honor of Andrew Smith Hallidie, the early promoter of the cable car system, for whom Hallidie Plaza is also named, the building was designed by an equally notable San Franciscan, architect Willis Polk. Completed in 1918, it was Polk’s last major work.

Kenneth Frampton, in Modern Architecture, 1851 to 1945, called the building “the first application of a pure curtain wall to any building in America” (in a glass curtain wall, the glass is hung beyond the structural elements) and a structure of “extraordinary precision and lightness.” While the first claim is disputed—though certainly at least it is among the first—the second should not be. The seven-story facade, traditional in composition and gothic in gold-painted cast iron detail, remains a triumph.

Street-level view of Hallidie Building, showing ornamented fire escapes.

Street-level view of Hallidie Building, showing ornamented fire escapes.

The building was restored for safety reasons in a two-year project that was completed in April 2013. The firm of Page & Turnbull writes of the restoration,

The deteriorated ornamental metal on the 130 Sutter Street façade was of prime concern at the Hallidie Building, which features the first high-rise glass curtain wall assembly in the United States. Deferred maintenance had taken its toll on the façade, and several components were deteriorating, causing water and air leakage, thermal variation on the interior, and an unusable means of fire egress. With the rehabilitation, repairs were made to maximize retention of the historic fabric. This landmark was made new again, including its original blue and gold color scheme, initially selected for its building’s patron, the University of California, Berkeley.

On the same website, Page & Turnbull also provide some stunning photos of the result of the restoration. The building was originally an investment property of the Regents of the University of California.

Detail of Hallidie Building facade.

Detail of Hallidie Building facade.


Transbay station could soon be obsolete

slumping transbay planAnd it’s not even built yet.

Remember these transbay terminal designs? It turns out, according to “state transportation officials,” the terminal would be inadequate to serve projected travelers, and it would also pose engineering problems.

“Three sets of engineers met and they concurred that the design for the station was inadequate and useless for high-speed rail,” according to Quentin Kopp.

Another triumph for the City That Once Knew How.


Story via the Chronicle. Enjoy it, because the paper says it might not stay in business much longer.


Celestial bodies


This photo shows visitors exiting the Planetarium at the recently opened Academy of Science building in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The building was designed by Renzo Piano. I’ll be running some more photos from this building over the next few days as I try to get caught up on my blogging.


San Simeon outdoor pool

outdoor pool at hearst castle, san simeon, north of cambria

The outdoor pool at San Simeon epitomizes the site’s southern Spanish Renaissance and gothic style. Construction is primarily of poured concrete, embellished with European antiguities and facsimilies thereof. Despite going top-dollar all the way, the result verges on kitsch. Still, it must have been a kick spalshing around in this hilltop pool.

More photos to come . . .

Pool at Hearst Castle

 indoor pool at hearst castle

Just a photo today, as we head south a little bit, to Hearst Castle near Cambria. This is one of the opulent indoor pools.

Pelli Clarke Pelli / Hines: “a sense of lightheartedness”

pelli clarke pelli san francisco transbay terminal design

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority board approved the proposal of the Houston-based Pelli Clark Pelli / Hines group for the design of the new Transbay Terminal. (See photos of the three finalists here.) The tower envisioned in the group’s design soars to 120 stories high. The PCP/H proposal had previously won the favor of by a recommending jury not only on its design merits but committing $350 million to the authority (the second-ranked team only $145 million).

In keeping with the project’s general tone of excess, the jury’s report is available as a 5+ MB pdf download. (Which makes me cranky –why is it that us ordinary bloggers learn to optimize our graphics for the viewer’s convenience but as soon as your start throwing millions of dollars at something even the most fundamental things can’t be handled properly?) Here’s a portion of the jury’s report:

The Transit Center fits beautifully as part of the urban form of San Francisco both from an aerial perspective and at ground level. The Tower works as a marker on the skyline of the Transit Center below. The Transit Center edge is well scaled and retail is visible and inviting. The proposal expands the program of the Transit Center beyond a transportation hub to add value through a wonderful urban “City Park.” As a catalyst for development in itself, the park has the potential to link to new adjacent buildings as redevelopment proceeds, further defining the urban form. Design of the Transit Center structure and rooftop park conveys not only a sense of light heartedness, but also a concern for the environment, wholly in keeping with the San Francisco spirit. “Mission Square” provides a great room or hall as a civic space and grand entry to the Transit Center and City Park. The design also addresses and lessens the “tunnel” effect on First and Fremont streets. Overall, the design is not as much about itself as a single building as it is about its role in the neighborhood and City, providing new usable open space and vibrant street life as the focus of a mixed-use, dense neighborhood.

The photo is from the City Hall presentation. 

Transbay Terminal designs

I got over to City Hall yesterday to see the models and visualizations of the new Transbay Terminal (on view for that one day only). The general outlines of this have been reported elsewhere, although we still seem to be waiting for a full and careful consideration of the plans. The plans were commissioned by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, a regional group established with an eye on creating a new transit center to rival NYC’s Grand Central Station (San Francisco has had a bad case of Apple-envy for as long as I can remember). The three plans under consideration all feature an extremely high tower — about the height of the Empire State Building. That would make it the tallest building on the West Coast.

But there’s “no guarantee” any of the designs will be built. San Francisco has traditionally opposed very tall buildings. Still, almost everyone agrees the current Transbay Terminal is squalid and depressing, and the new mostly yuppy population of the city seems more sympathetic to the concept of big buildings as validation of civic esteem than used to be the case. In other words, well, we’ll see.

I hope to find some time to comment on these a bit more later on. For now, some photos:

1. Skidmore Owings Merrill (whose mark is already all over the city) proposes a tower with a twist (don’t we already have one of those in the park?). The rooftop would be accessible to the public and enclosed in glass.

skidmore transbay design

2. Pelli Clarke Pelli (they’re Houston-based, which is a strike against them right there) propose a tower that sort of, well, peters out as it rises. It’s said to have “a sleek skin.”

pelli transbay design

3. Rogers Stirk Harbour ‘s design has been called “muscular.” It rises straight up and is capped with a giant wind turbine framed by metal structural extensions. Jim Leftwich has noted that it would be more complete with a giant eye.

rogers transbay terminal design

More to come …

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