In 1984, the P/A Awards jury’s discussion of the California DataMart focused on its plan: Designed by Tanner & VanDine Architects (now TannerHecht), the four-story building filled its irregular site with a central atrium that juror O.M. Ungers called a “poché room” in what James Polshek, FAIA, described as “a very bizarrely shaped block.” The jury hardly mentioned the building’s then-innovative function as a wholesale showroom for microcomputers; in the mid-1980s, San Francisco represented the epicenter of the digital revolution.
The building’s design, though, recalls some of the aesthetics of early computers. The structure’s curved corners echo those of the first Apple Macintosh, released in January 1984, while its sleek, glass-block envelope glows at night, like the computer monitors once on display there. Likewise, the building’s rough, rear elevation and its rooftop parking at the level of the adjacent freeway bring to mind the ugly backs of computers, full of sockets and switches.
The building subsequently became a diamond showroom, and Sally Woodbridge, in a 1989 issue of P/A, commented upon its “gleaming aesthetic … appropriate … as a jewelry mart.” In the wake of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the building received praise for its seismic design, with glass-block panels that “move during quakes while remaining securely in place.”
Now used by Dolby Laboratories, the building, with its still-sleek skin, seems fitting for a sound company, and offers a quiet refuge from the highways around it. It serves as proof that the best buildings do not suggest just one interpretation; they continually invite new ones.
1984 P/A Awards Jury
Sam Davis, FAIA
J. Michael Kirkland
James Polshek, FAIA
Roger Schluntz, FAIA
This post has been updated. TannerHecht is the successor firm to Tanner & VanDine Architects. ARCHITECT regrets the error.