Some argue that Salesforce's decision to stay downtown in buildings such as 50 Fremont is better for San Francisco.
Salesforce leased space at 50 Fremont before abandoning plans for a new campus at Mission Bay.

Deja vu and SoMa’s second chance

Earlier this year, Salesforce’s seemingly sudden decision to abandon plans for a new 2-million-square-foot campus at Mission Bay raised immediate concerns about San Francisco’s already tightening office market—and some murmurs of relief. Although the proposed campus was largely viewed as a positive addition to the Mission Bay district’s uneven collection of buildings, even some fans of Ricardo Legorreta’s distinctive architecture had qualms about living with that much Legorreta. Still others felt that the booming company’s continued presence downtown, in existing buildings, would better serve the city’s long-term development than a sprawling single-tenant campus. Whether or not one shares these views, Salesforce and other expanding businesses, like their dot-com predecessors, have the potential to reshape the city’s South of Market and eastern neighborhoods. Making the most of this opportunity requires a more comprehensive view of what makes cities vital and livable.

 

Jobs don’t equal a neighborhood. After the economic blows of the past few years, Salesforce’s commitment to staying in San Francisco—along with Twitter, Zynga and a host of exploding start-ups—is undeniably cause for celebration. Yet beyond the much-coveted jobs, with all their contingent economic benefits for the city, one shouldn’t assume that these new headquarters will spark socially and culturally enriching development.

 

The tech and housing booms of the late 1990s and 2000s brought a transformative wave of commercial office buildings and multi-family housing development to South of Market, but with few exceptions, the new development failed to overcome the area’s large blocks and traffic-dominated streets to achieve that holy grail of urban planning, “a vibrant urban district.” In fact, with few exceptions the rising tides barely lifted Western SoMa and Mid-Market neighborhoods in any permanent way.

 

In 2007, when the San Francisco Federal Building opened at Seventh and Mission Streets, many anticipated that the 605,000-square-foot office building, accommodating thousands of workers, would stimulate new development in the long-struggling Mid-Market redevelopment area. While Morphosis’s bold architecture made the corner a new destination for architects, the building’s desolate plaza with its forlorn cafe—turned away from the street—failed to emerge as an active public space that engages the neighborhood. And little seemed to change in the surrounding blocks.

 

San Francisco Mart
Twitter’s move to the historic SF Mart is expected to revitalize the long-struggling Mid Market neighborhood.

 

Now Twitter’s move to the historic San Francisco Furniture Mart at Tenth and Market Streets has sparked high hopes for Mid-Market, and everyone is betting big. The formidable, 11-story art deco building totals 775,000 square feet, including 200,000 square feet of ground level retail, according to the owner’s web site. Twitter is reportedly fitting out 200,000 square feet with an eye toward occupying 400,000 in the future.

 

Once a bustling hub of home decoration, the SF Mart, in recent years, became a symbol of Market Street’s struggles. Earlier schemes to resurrect the SF Mart as luxury condos were squashed by the economic collapse, and its continuing lifelessness radiates into the surrounding streets. Presumably this will change for the better when Twitter’s 800 workers move in, driving local demand for pour-over coffee, coconut water, kimchee tacos and made-to-order salads. The promise alone has changed the fortunes of the venerable art deco building, whose remaining floors and long-vacant retail have already found new takers, according to recent reports. But as existing buildings fill up and new buildings rise to meet continued demand, the scale of these headquarters and how they integrate into the city are the crux of the opportunity and the challenge.

 

At 1.5 million square feet, the 52-story Bank of America tower (completed by SOM in 1969 and now marketed as 555 California) is just three-quarters the size of the campus Salesforce had proposed at Mission Bay. Yet as the much smaller SF Mart shows, when this square footage is translated into a single mid-rise, larger-floorplate building—the kind allegedly favored by tech companies—the massing can become, well, massive.

 

CMG Mint Plaza
Once an unwelcoming alley, Mint Plaza is now a popular destination for local diners and tourists. Photo by Sharon Risedorph

 

SF Mart was constructed in the 1930s, and its historic status limits the potential of dramatically rethinking the way its ground-floor spaces engage the street. But whether a building is existing or new, one can imagine a ground-level amenity strategy that also serves as a catalyzing force for struggling blocks. With the trend towards co-locating incubator space alongside mothership companies, these coffee shops, restaurants, and yoga studios could become the living room for a larger business community, while also serving local residents. Similarly recent developments such as Mint Plaza, designed by CMG Landscape Architecture, illustrate the synergistic potential of merging public space with commercial endeavors.

 

 

SoMa Streets
SoMa’s multi-lane, one-way streets funnel traffic to the freeway.

 

Streets for People or Cars? How buildings meet the street is critical, but the greater challenge to making SoMa a vibrant district are its wide multi-lane, one-way streets that are programmed to funnel cars from the freeway to other parts of the city. By prioritizing commuter traffic over SoMa’s residents, businesses and workers, these roadways doom the district to being a less livable neighborhood.

 

The Central Corridor Project, an ongoing initiative led by the San Francisco Planning Department, is the latest effort to tackle the challenge of accommodating economic growth, quality of life, and transportation in SoMa. Proposed land-use scenarios for the 24-block area bound by Mission, Townsend, Second and Sixth streets emphasize the development of lower-height, large floorplate commercial buildings (think Foundry Square), though buildings could reach higher near future Central Subway stops along Fourth Street. Although the options under consideration are more pragmatic than visionary the proposed streetscape improvements and open space opportunities offer the possibility of dramatically enhancing the way people experience the district.

 

Explaining how the Central Corridor Project compliments or contradicts other recent SoMa planning efforts could fuel an entire blog. These initiatives include the 2011 Yerba Buena Street Life Plan led by CMG, the 2006 Transbay Streetscape and Open Space Plan led by ZGF and Marta Fry Landscape Associates, and the community-led Western SoMa Community Plan, currently undergoing EIR review, and its companion Western SoMa Neighborhood Transportation Plan, which the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority adopted in March. But at a high level they collectively underscore SoMa’s role as a vital piece of San Francisco’s economic and cultural future, and one that is undermined by its legacy as a district to be bypassed in cars rather than experienced.

 

Beyond reinvigorating the city’s job base and economy, this new tech boom offers San Francisco the opportunity to chart a new course for SoMa by addressing the fundamental issues that lay beyond the property lines. As we celebrate the recovering economy, let’s not lose sight of the big picture.

Comments

  1. I agree with your comments on the streetscape of the area. There have been a number of proposals over the years to turn Folsom into a “Main Street” throughout SoMA with wider sidewalks and lower traffic speeds. It would be great to actually see this happen. Turning the majority of streets in the neighborhood from one way back to two way would be a simple way to slow the traffic down, combined with midblock bulb-outs and signalized crosswalks.

    > Reply

> Submit

Select filter(s):
02_smaller

Ispirazione

In amber morning light I boarded a vaporetto and floated down Venice’s Grand Canal. Bit of a switch from Dallas.

 

> Read More

Opening_Night_HEADER

The Art of Assemblage

 

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”

 

-Richard P. Feynman

 

We enter a fabric womb, a cave-like space of soft stalactites that brush against us, shifting and pooling us into groups. We’ve stumbled into the world that is Give, an installation by artists Bird Feliciano and Juliana Raimondi.

> Read More

391957_10151098224905378_953405842_n

Contributor Profile: Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer

 

Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer are co-curators for StoreFrontLab‘s Season 2: City Making Series.

> Read More

InvUrb1

Invisible Urbanism

Ian Quate at the opening of the summit. (Photo: John Parman)

How do you make yourself at home in a cauldron filled with demons? I’m quoting the founder of Soto Zen, but the question was also posed at a recent San Francisco summit. > Read More

photo_leahnichols_formatted

Contributor Profile: Leah Nichols

 

Leah Nichols is a San Francisco-based urban designer and art activist. She currently works at SITELAB urban studio, implementing public realm possibilities within a range of scales, from 28-acre mixed use developments to chain-link fence installations.

IMG_5113_copy_sm_formatted

Urban Symposium No. 1

The first Urban Symposium event, as a part of StoreFrontLab Season 2, kicked off with a full room of people, each with a party hat on and margarita in hand. > Read More

al-gs-trace

TraceSF launches City Makers salon

This month TraceSF introduces City Makers, a new salon series at StoreFrontLabHosted by Amanda Loper of David Baker Architects and Emily Gosack of Jensen Architects, City Makers grew out of a desire to hear more from the women at the forefront of City Making. John Parman, a founding editor of TraceSF, spoke with Amanda and Emily about the series, which opens on October 28 with  Laura Crescimano, a principal of SITELAB urban studio.

> Read More

MWprofile

Contributor Profile: Michael Willis

Michael Willis is a well-known Bay Area architect.

Berlin architect Professor Michael Braum led off the first day's session. Photo: Michael Willis

Knowledge City: Rethinking Heidelberg

Berlin architect Professor Michael Braum led off the first day’s session. Photo: Michael Willis

Heidelberg, one of Europe’s oldest university towns, is looking at its future. Here’s a firsthand account of what’s ahead and what it might means for university towns here. > Read More

Carlo Scarpa, Berkeley, California, 1969”, photo courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Carlo Scarpa In Person

“Carlo Scarpa, Berkeley, California, 1969,” photo courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

 

When one turns the page of an architecture magazine and the work of Carlo Scarpa appears unexpectedly, a quiet inner thrill is felt. Since his passing in 1978, we seem increasingly moved by Scarpa’s caress of material, his strange but faultless sense of placement and proportion, the contemplative nature of his details. These appreciations are heightened by the knowledge that his output was relatively limited. > Read More

Max Levy Portrait for Trace SF_credit Rebecca Thaden Photography

Contributor Profile: Max Levy

 

A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (1970), Dallas architect Max Levy, FAIA, established his studio in 1984. He is best known for designs that connect people with nature in both rural and urban settings. > Read More

IMG_Banner

Planned Growth or Unplanned Strife?

 

Will San Francisco follow through on its carefully laid plans to accommodate a growing population, or will it continue to fight the same battles time and time again?

> Read More

Hogan_headshop landscape

Contributor Profile: Mark Hogan

 

Mark Hogan AIA, LEED BD+C is a licensed architect in the states of New York and California. His primary interests lie in housing, sustainable urban design and in enhancing digital design workflows. > Read More

TPX_header

Urban Activation Device & TXP

Spanish art & architecture collective Todo Por La Praxis is seeking collaborators and participants for their experimental research on activating the urban void. > Read More

Child running home in the destroyed city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in the hot summer of 1995. Photo by Thom Hoffman.

When Cities Fall: Urban Histories and Political Memory

Destroyed city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995. Photo by Thom Hoffman.

Our experience of the present is shaped by our understanding of the past. By ignoring the urban narratives of  monuments, structures, city parks, memorials…what messages are we missing for the present?  > Read More

Figure 2_607x405

Save SLO County!

Heading into Paso Robles from the west, 2013

 

Will San Luis Obispo (SLO) County remain predominantly agricultural, or will it sink into the same morass of rural sprawl that took out Orange County? It could go either way, but there’s still hope if we act now. > Read More

Image courtesy of Southern Exposure

The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra

Image courtesy of Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure is launching a public art program, The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra, the first West Coast performance project by the artist Liz Magic Laser and her collaborators, the actors Audrey Crabtree and Michael Wiener. > Read More

Eyes on the River. Photo by Christopher Herring.

The Floods in Budapest

Eyes on the River. Photo by Christopher Herring.

The stone banks alongside the river contain the city. Despite them, here is the river, rising.  Silently, swiftly the waters swarm downstream; the swell of water does not much alter the river’s appearance.  You know there is more of it now only because benches, parks, and the bike road are being submerged.  It has not yet risen to the main city wall, about 20 feet higher; three more days of flooding expected.  

> Read More

Photo by Christopher Herring.

Contributor Profile: Elizabeth Snowden

Photo by Christopher Herring.

Elizabeth Snowden is a Berkeley-based writer and editor. A graduate of Bard College, she has edited catalogues raisonnés on Picasso and Gris for Wittenborn Art Books in San Francisco.

Joseph Kosuth reviewing plans for the art installations at the Dog House. Photo by pm cook.

Mr. Waka’s Dog House

Joseph Kosuth reviewing plans for the art installations at the Dog House. Photo by pm cook.

 

“Get out at the Sakuragaoka post office. Turn around and you’ll see a Lawson’s. Walk to it and then turn left. Walk up that street and you’ll see the Dog House on the right.” Typical Tokyo directions from the art impresario and entrepreneur Joni Waka. > Read More