Published Tuesday, October 31, 2006, by the San Francisco Chronicle
Only 'starchitects' need apply to do transit hub design
By John King
The Bay Area could be "starchitect" central next year.
The reason? The quest for a new Transbay Terminal -- one of those
ongoing San Francisco sagas that, wonder of wonders, is beginning
to look as if it will happen. Wednesday the competition begins to
select an architect to design a new transit hub at First and Mission
streets, and a skyscraping tower to help pay for it. The competition
also seeks a deep-pocket developer to build the tower.
And with a project of this scale and complexity, only heavyweights
One celebrity architect expected to surface is Santiago Calatrava, a
Spanish master renowned for sculptural imagery; his major American
project right now is a soaring train station being built at the
World Trade Center site. Other rumored big names include England's
Norman Foster (whose firm has two sleek academic buildings at
Stanford University) and Cesar Pelli, whose 560 Mission St. is one
of San Francisco's best office towers.
At this point, the only players we know for sure are the seven jury
members approved Friday by the Transbay Joint Power Authority
>. The group includes local architect
Alison Williams, real estate economist Jerry Keyser and UC Davis
Professor Susan Handy, an expert on transportation and land use.
The jury's architects stress that what will unfold over the next
10 months isn't a beauty contest.
"I'm glad design is paramount, because the program is extremely
complicated," says Williams, a principal in the San Francisco office
of Perkins + Will. She refers to the technical demands of a terminal
that folds in bus routes, commuter trains from San Mateo County and,
possibly, high-speed rail -- as well as a smooth fit with a tower
next door that could exceed 1,000 feet in height, on a narrow site
crowded by other towers.
"This is so structurally driven, it's not strictly an architectural
pursuit," Williams says. "The design has to be tethered to the other
The same point is made by Hsin-Ming Fung, whose firm Hodgetts + Fung
is one of Los Angeles' top design houses.
"The station is really an engineering feat," Fung says. "It's not
just wrapping a skin around a project. It's about solving a problem
and working with other concerns."
Competing teams must submit their qualifications on Jan. 11; the
jury will then select finalists who will present design proposals
and financial offers in July. The schedule calls for selection of
a design and development team in mid-August.
So if you see a dapper archi-type standing around First and Mission,
elegant sketchbook in hand, you'll know why.
In an age where "edgy" and "ironic" are all the rage, a word like
"beautiful" might seem quaint. But when the group San Francisco
Beautiful handed out its annual awards this month, we were reminded
that beauty can be civil and creative as well.
Friedel Klussmann, immortalized in countless Herb Caen columns as
the woman who saved San Francisco's cable car system from extinction
after World War II, founded the group in 1947. This year's awards
focused on open space -- and the ingenuous passion of the city's
The top award went to Octavia Boulevard, where a freeway was
replaced last year by a landscaped thoroughfare after years of
neighborhood activism. That change is still in progress -- lots
alongside it will be filled by housing, for instance -- but it's
already ignited the revival of Hayes Valley.
On a much smaller sale, the Robert C. Friese Award for Neighborhood
Conservation went to the Quesada Gardens Initiative: one block of
the crime-plagued Bayview neighborhood where residents turned a
dumping ground for debris into a riot of flowers and vegetables and
Other beautification awards went to Yerba Buena Gardens, the tile
steps on 16th Avenue in Golden Gate Heights, the restoration of
Mission Creek, the Newsom administration's street-greening
initiatives and recent landscaping improvements at Candlestick
Point. All are deserved.
Finally, a pre-election plug for a worthy cause: the proposed
quarter-cent sales tax in Marin and Sonoma to turn long-empty train
routes into a 70-mile commuter rail system between Larkspur and
Yes, it would cost nearly $500 million to launch the line, its
14 stations and a parallel pedestrian-bike trail. No, highway
congestion won't magically dissolve. But Measure R absolutely
deserves support because it will help preserve the North Bay's
What exists along the Highway 101 corridor today isn't the sort of
undifferentiated sprawl that smears the South Bay. Rather, a string
of unique communities have preserved their roots despite the
pressure of growth. And a new thread of passenger rail would
strengthen the fabric that still exists -- by underlying the
importance of town centers, of low-key urbanity, of cities that
grow in instead of out (development sites are adjacent to several
potential stations, the perfect spot for new housing).
As for the sniping of opponents that the projected ridership of
5,300 passengers a day isn't worth the cost, consider this. When a
light-rail service opened in the southwest Denver region in 2000,
first-year ridership topped projections by 70 percent.
If you build it, they will ride.
Measure R translates to a transportation alternative and an
investment in local communities. Not bad for a quarter-cent.
Place appears on Thursdays. E-mail John King at jking@...