In the coming years, the San Francisco skyline is rising above its former height limits, with multiple skyscrapers already under construction or in the works. But do San Franciscans actually want their city to progress vertically?
A recent report by Watertown, Mass.–based architecture and design firm Sasaki Associates and analytic agency Equation Research outlined the results of a survey conducted with 1,000 people who live and work in one of six major U.S. cities—178 of those in San Francisco—about their locales. “The State of the City Experience” reflects a division in the responses about the future of San Francisco’s architecture.
When asked what San Francisco should invest in to improve its architectural character, 25 percent said that wanted smaller buildings (the highest percentage of any city), while 20 percent replied that they wanted more skyscrapers and iconic buildings (also the highest percentage of any city).
Sasaki principal Victor W. Vizgaitis, AIA, who lived and worked in San Francisco for seven years, says he is not surprised with the results of the data pertaining to the city. “Over the past decade, San Francisco has undergone a change in mentality from being more focused on history and preservation of neighborhood identity and what it has been in the past to looking ahead to the future, without a singular focus on the past,” he says.
According to the survey, San Franciscans are still very interested in the city’s past, with 54 percent saying the city should invest in the renovations of existing historical buildings to retain character but make them more useable. Of the San Francisco participants, 76 percent indicated satisfaction with the city’s historic buildings and places, compared to 70 percent satisfaction with the city’s architecture in general.
Planning for the city's future includes the addition of several new buildings as part of the $4.2 billion Transit Center District Plan for the redevelopment of the area surrounding the former Transbay Terminal, which was demolished in 2010. In the coming years, the Salesforce Tower, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, will dominate the skyline as the city's tallest tower at 1,070 feet tall, surpassing the height of the Transamerica Pyramid. The skyscraper is currently under construction and is expected to open in 2017. The 50 First Street Tower will also rise above the Transamerica Pyramid when it is constructed. The project will include a second tower next door on Mission Street, which will rise to 605 feet, although it is still too early in the design process to know what the tower will look like. To design the towers, London's Foster + Partners is working with San Francisco's Heller Manus Architects—the same firm that has designed the nearby 181 Fremont Street, a 54-story building currently under construction. Chicago's Studio Gang Architects recently released renderings of the 160 Folsom Street skyscraper, but the tower still faces zoning approval.
In the near future, San Francisco's urban landscape will climb higher and higher. The city's residents may be apprehensive, as Vizgaitis noted, but San Francisco "can only go up to continue to expand," he said.
Here are some more stand-out stats from the raw data of the study:
“Urban Architecture Study: Topline Results” by Equation Research; May 2014
1,000 participants in: Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
How the 178 San Franciscans answered….
When walking along a downtown street, I tend to stop and admire...
58% Buildings that are historic (national average: 57%)
47% Building that prominently feature public art or very unique design elements (national average: 38%)
28% Building with great public spaces that invite you inside (national average: 33%)
18% Building that are modern (national average: 19%)
10% The tallest buildings (national average: 15%)
To improve the architectural character of your city, the city should invest in…
54% Renovating existing historical buildings to retain character but make them more useable (national average: 54%)
32% I love my city’s architecture; we should keep doing what we’re doing (national average: 33%)
33% More flexible uses that support pop-ups and community events (national average: 30%)
24% More unusual architecture—get Frank Gehry on the phone! (national average: 22%)
25% More smaller-scale buildings; our city feels imposing and impersonal (national average: 20%)
20% More skyscrapers/iconic buildings; our city feels too quaint (national average: 17%)
Homepage image: Courtesy of Foster + Partners