Recently, we reconfigured several units in a four-story midcentury gem of an apartment building atop San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, an exercise that was not unlike solving a 3D puzzle. We kept the panoramic views of the Bay and city skyline while rightsizing some of the units and carving out a two-story townhouse for the owners. The project shows the adaptability of the original building’s strong modernist bones and the opportunities for adding curves to counterpoint the orthogonal nature of the modernist box.
Suburbs and cities everywhere face the challenge of what to do with malls and shopping centers that have been hit hard by COVID-19, the departure of department store anchors, and the rise of online shopping. One example close to home is Northgate Mall in San Rafael, which opened in the 1960s and currently has a Macy’s and a Kohl’s as its anchors. A third anchor, Sears, closed its doors here in 2018. About a year later, Costco proposed taking over the site with a massive three-story big box store and 30 Costco fuel pumps.
Covid-19 has challenged all of us to re-evaluate our relationship to shared interior spaces. Some of our clients have had to adapt their facilities to modify their operations. For two of our clients, SFO and The Bay School, we have developed solutions to meet their immediate needs with an eye towards enhancing their long-term operational goals. Below is a sample of these Covid-response projects.
Kuth Ranieri Architects has promoted architects Rob Marcalow and Juno Song to associates. Rob is the firm’s East Coast studio director for the Boston regional office. Since joining in 2018, he’s worked on everything from a daycare center to San Francisco International Airport. Juno came to Kuth Ranieri in 2015 and has had a hand in a number of the firm’s projects at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), ranging from the new Harvey Milk Terminal 1 to the “Big Room” co-location office for the entire Terminal 1 team.
In the Bay Area, the scarcity and high expense of childcare has posed a significant challenge to families already struggling with the cost of living. One provider, Burlingame-based Palcare Childcare, has been making a difference since the early 1990s. Palcare offers childcare programs with flexible scheduling—not only during the day but also well into the evening—for families of children ranging from three months to five years old.
Today, the Black Lava Fields is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. There is an existing visitor’s center, a simple building made up of container modules that house a gift shop and café. The Bee Breeders, architecture competition organizers, held this design competition to replace the existing building with a structure more worthy of this amazing environment.
Going to the dentist can be a scary experience for children. For the Division of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of California, San Francisco, providing affordable services to the children of the city’s low-income families is about investing in the community. So when it came time to renovate the clinic’s home base at the Parnassus Campus, our clients asked us to transform the space so it could offer a private practice–quality experience, both for the comfort of patients and pride of staff and students—despite some difficult constraints the existing building posed.
We regularly incorporate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines into our work, but I never realized that ADA legislation was a result of years of protests by hundreds of social rights activists. I had only learned about the 504 Sit-In after a friend of mine named Natalie Fung posted about it on social media. Natalie was organizing a protest for people with disabilities in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A few years ago, we received a call from Gensler, the global architecture firm selected to design the interior of Chase Center: the new waterfront home for the Golden State Warriors. Gensler needed a small business enterprise to join their team to design the lobbies and eventually, the Esplanade of the center. We of course leaped at the opportunity to help create the new home for our beloved team.
It happens to most parents: the kids grow up, move out of the house, get jobs, and start families of their own. And when they come home to visit for a few days or weeks, they don’t always fit in their old childhood bedrooms—especially once they start bringing their own children.
Since our firm’s inception, we have been involved in three memorials to Harvey Milk. Milk, a civil rights and human rights activist, made history as California’s first openly gay elected official when he joined the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the late 1970s. He was slain eleven months later, but his legacy lives on. All three of the memorials we created are part of infrastructure projects, which is no accident. Like infrastructure, Harvey Milk was all about connecting.
In the Bay Area, a number of clients have been asking us to revamp modest midcentury suburban ranch houses. Built …
Designed by architect Frederick H. Reimers and opened in San Francisco’s Balboa Park in 1956, Balboa Pool is a classic example of the International Style, with its flat roof, scored concrete-clad exterior walls, bands of metal-framed windows, minimal ornamentation, and semicircular ramp leading to the entryway. After more than a half-century, however, normal wear and tear had taken its toll, chlorine had eaten away at the steel windows, and the structure needed a seismic upgrade.
In the fall of 2017, one of our clients lost their house to the Santa Rosa wildfires. Not long after, they asked us to drive up from San Francisco and talk about designing a new house on the same site. The landscape was eerie, all ashes and chimneys and bent, burnt, broken things.
On February 23rd we ventured to Balboa Park to celebrate the reopening of the Balboa Pool, a project we have …
Grain mills seem to be just a remnant of the past, a reminder of the way things used to be done. The cumbersome equipment used to turn wheat berries into flour has been virtually forgotten, until recently. The non-profit organization, Honoré Farm and Mill, based in Marin County, California, worked with Kuth Ranieri Architects to envision the country’s first-ever mobile wheat and grain mill.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.