Blog

  • Urban Nature- Reconceptualizing San Francisco Public Restrooms and Kiosks

    In the mid-1990s, the San Francisco Department of Public Works contracted with the French outdoor advertising company JCDecaux to provide two dozen accessible, self-cleaning public restrooms to be scattered throughout the city’s sidewalks in areas with high foot traffic. Along with them came 114 advertising kiosks. Both restrooms and kiosks resembled their counterparts in Paris, with Art Nouveau curves and gold accents. They may have added a necessary function to the streetscape, but aesthetically, they didn’t have anything in particular to do with San Francisco.

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  • Building a Green Practice

    As I started strategizing about how to take our firm’s commitment to sustainability and green design to the next level, I came up against a Catch-22 situation. It’s similar to the one architects face when branching out to pursue new building types: you need to demonstrate experience with a particular project type in order to get projects of that type. Only through project participation do we build the specific skills that constitute “experience.”

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  • Remaking a Roller Coaster into a Home for Birds at Lion Mountain

    We’ve completed a number of unusual adaptive use projects—repurposing a storefront for the GLBT History Museum, converting a historic 1880s stone vinegar factory into offices for a nonprofit foundation, and remaking an industrial shed into a bunkhouse for artists. But we never expected we’d be asked to turn a roller coaster into an aviary.

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  • Beyond LEED-Achieving True Sustainability

    When people in the building industry think of sustainability, they think of LEED. But LEED is first and foremost a rating system. It was developed to push the industry incrementally toward more environmentally friendly strategies. It doesn’t envision the ideal that we all need to be striving for. What would a truly sustainable building look like?

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  • San Francisco International Airport-The Big Idea Behind the Big Room at Terminal 1

    A Conversation with Michael McGroarty, Ophelia Wilkins, and Ethen Wood
    Q: Before we get into talking about the Big Room and what it is, let’s talk about the project it was built for.

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  • Balancing the Traditional and the Contemporary on a Berkeley Hillside

    Recently, the AIA East Bay gave one of our firm’s houses a 2017 Merit Award, so we thought we would tell the story behind the design, which involved a tricky remodel on a difficult site.

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  • Speaking in Tubes

    For three days in early October, the 2016 Market Street Prototyping Festival gave the public a chance to experience more than three dozen ideas for enhancing San Francisco’s main drag and creatively engaging people with the urban environment and with each other. Created by teams who answered a call for submissions last April, the installations ranged from an artistic ping-pong table to an enclosure containing homemade musical instruments to a hand-crank-powered box that distributed stories and artwork. Kuth Ranieri’s contribution, SonoGROTTO, was a pavilion made of hundreds of cardboard tubes, carved to create seats, windows, and an oculus that frames views to the sky.

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  • Champions of the Bay Area Heroic

    I grew up in San Francisco in a building designed by Julia Morgan, one of the earliest and most influential architects of the Bay Region style. (The building happened to be the San Francisco Zen Center.) So it may seem surprising that two of my biggest architectural heroes are Mario Ciampi and Paffard Keatinge-Clay, designers of concrete buildings in the style commonly labeled “Brutalist.”

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  • Preserving Modest Moderns

    After more than half a century of use, many midcentury modern buildings have undergone a lot of wear and tear. They may no longer meet current seismic codes or community needs. With the great treasures of midcentury modernism, our impulse is to preserve these structures; however, the decision of whether to restore, reconfigure or tear down and replace, must be made on a case-by-case basis. Not every piece of midcentury modernism is notable enough to be saved. Just because it’s modern doesn’t mean it’s good—or bad.

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  • Community Museums

    Ever since the words “Bilbao effect” entered the lexicon, museums have been competing in a game of architectural ingenuity or ‘newness’. While there is value in striking design, the search for the “wow factor” can lead museums away from their mission to connect to the public.

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  • Freeway Fragment

    Twenty-four years ago, the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway substantially enough to force its closure. There was a lot of debate then about the pros and cons of repairing versus demolishing it.

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