In SF, Does Lack of Big Names Mean Lack of Good Design?

Alexei Barrionuevo explores San Francisco's starchitect deficit, finding a city "more interested in conserving its [history] than in making a statement." This approach comes in for criticism from the dean of starchitects himself - Frank Gehry.
November 19, 2012, 7am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Barrionuevo posits San Francisco, where "distinctive architecture is conspicuously lacking in the high-rise building boom," as a counterpoint to New York, where "showcasing a 'starchitect' is part of the arms race that is luxury condo development..."

True, the forty-year-old Transamerica Pyramid remains the city's iconic high-rise tower (Barrionuevo fails to mention that New York's iconic tower is twice that age), but does a lack of bold names designing San Francisco's newest high-rises equate to a lack of bold designs?

"'People work hard to preserve old things without taking the risk to build something new,' Mr. Gehry said about San Francisco in a recent phone conversation. He was critical of the high-rise building boom under way in San Francisco’s South of Market area, where the newly built towers are boxy and utilitarian. 'It’s business without heart,' he said."

Robert A.M. Stern [an interesting choice to speak of progressive design] blames the Bay Area's nouveau tech riche, whom he thinks lack "the sophistication to care about buildings (though, it must be said, they may have refined tastes in the subtle design touches of the latest smartphones). 'I think it takes them awhile to get over the initial high-dose blast of wealth to realize that wealth can be used more creatively than just buying big shoebox spaces and sticking in foosball games and other things like that,' Mr. Stern said."

Barrionuevo, however, points a finger at the city's onerous approvals process: "[i]ndeed, developers in San Francisco are loath to take architectural risks because the city’s approval process for new development is long and rigorous, perhaps the most onerous in the country, architects say."

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, November 15, 2012 in The New York Times
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