If San Franciscans like to describe their city as “49 square miles surrounded by reality,” the visionary ideas that were too grandiose for even San Franciscans to consider remain some of the most fantastic designs for any city in the world. Imagine a grand casino on Alcatraz, the city wrapped in freeways and a subdivision covering flattened hills north of the Golden Gate Bridge. — Architecture and the City Festival
San Francisco is a small yet fierce city; its 7x7 mile girth is home to a rich history of social activism, tech start-ups, foodies, artists, composting programs and absurdist housing rates. Given its compact and hilly terrain, any addition or subtraction would drastically impact the city’s image -- how do you regard a San Francisco without the Transamerica pyramid, or with a giant freeway at the Embarcadero? As part of the Architecture and the City Festival, the “Unbuilt San Francisco” exhibition provokes citizens to consider their relationship to the city through its architecture, by examining designs for past and future landmarks.
This exhibition may sound familiar -- down south in Los Angeles, the A+D Museum is exhibiting similar themes of architectural potential with Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin’s “Never Built” show. As discussed here on Archinect a few weeks ago, the unrealized plans featured in “Never Built” are all about past imaginations of a city trying to choose its path of narrative development, and struggling with its own identity. Los Angeles’ amorphous sprawl is too much to regard all at once -- San Francisco, on the other hand, fits in the viewfinder, and has a coherent city narrative. To anyone who has ever visited, there is an accessible feeling to walking the streets, and the icons don’t contradict one another in tactility or scale.
Running now through December, the "Unbuilt" exhibition will take place simultaneously in five different venues in Berkeley and San Francisco, and showcase projects located all over the Bay Area. Each venue will focus on different topics under the “Unbuilt” umbrella, such as side-by-side comparisons of outlandish rejections and future plans, regional urban designs, and “Rhetorical Visions” -- imaginative renderings aimed at provoking citizen-viewers into new channels of thought.
What distinguishes “Unbuilt San Francisco” is its focus on forward momentum, and impending realities. Future proposals to adapt to inevitable symptoms of climate change, and utopian plans for melding urban and green spaces, coexist with fossils from the past that didn’t live up to the San Francisco of today.
Here's a list of participating venues in “Unbuilt San Francisco” (check for specific exhibition dates):
AIA San Francisco / Center for Architecture + Design
San Francisco Public Library
California Historical Society
The Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley