San Francisco

Architecture at “Arts of San Francisco”

San Francisco Museum of Art

This is the first installment of the summer-long show devoted to the Arts of San Francisco.

Architecture is a three-dimensional art. It is difficult to judge from photographs and drawings. One should see it, walk through and around it and see it in use. The Cyclotron Building by Gerald McCue, a well-conceived and strong building deriving its expression from its highly specialized function, cannot be truly appreciated from the photographs shown. The Exhibit also includes Saint Peter’s Church designed by Mario Ciampi, and the entries and winning design by Campbell & Wong for the Governor’s Mansion Competition, the International Building, and the Pope house.

The International Building, Anshen & Allen Architects: Basically this white tower of an office building is a magnificent solution. It is particularly well suited to the San Francisco skyline, where a vertical tower (as opposed to a slab) allowing air and views around it seems to be urbanisticaIly appropriate.

The building is ingenious in many of its technical aspects and solutions: such as, its use of air rights over the adjacent park, its recessed columns and cantilevered floors, and its indented corners.

By far the most outstanding feature of this building is its four large air conditioning ducts that rise vertically at each corner. By using these ducts as a design element, the Architects have stressed “the mechanical system” and caused it to strongly influence the basic form of the building. Central to the development of modern architecture has been the use of structure, materials, and function, as design elements while the mechanical system has been treated as an unwanted step child, buried within the building hidden and neglected. Only rarely has it found its way into the design vocabulary, as it does in this instance.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Architects were not satisfied to leave well enough alone; having designed a building beautiful and dramatic in its basic form and ingenious in its solution, they proceeded to overembellishment and, what seems to me, as an unnecessary attempt at enrichment: the faceted sparkling quartz spandrels, the V-shaped balconies at the fire stairs, and most offensive, the psuedo-Chinese hat with its diamond shaped decorations on the brim, all serve as distractions.

I feel that this attempt to be organic, to humanize and to be playful in a skyscraper seems to ring a false note and to detract from what is fundamentally a strong and beautiful building.

Residence for Mr. and Mrs. Pope, by Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons: This house is an excellent example of the work that has gained Mr. Wurster his reputation. It is an elegant house with spacious rooms designed for living in a grand and gracious manner.

It is a house that is difficult to label or pidgeon-hole. It seems, on first examination, conservative, unmodern, and conventional. In reality it is a house absolutely free of fads. Mr. Wurster makes not the slightest concession to what is in vogue or au courant; instead, he has designed a house that is appropriate to its site, climate, and most important to the way of life of his client. He does so with self-confidence and sureness of hand.

An expensive adobe house successfully detailed with common materials, such as railings of chicken wire and a corrugated metal roof commands admiration.

Even if one does not agree with this approach to architecture the fact remains that this house will remain handsome and livable long after many more experimental and daring houses will seem dated.

Robert B. Marquis