A rendering of urban life in 100 years by Fougeron Architecture courtesy of AIA San Francisco + Center for Architecture + Design

Even in San Francisco, there are some things that are just too out there to build. A new collaborative exhibit from AIA San Francisco, Center for Architecture + Design, Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley, California Historical Society, SPUR and the San Francisco Public Library shows SF city plans and designs that were never built. The Unbuilt San Francisco exhibit includes past and future designs for SF landmarks like city hall and is running now through December. 


"Folding Water" by Kuth Ranieri

I had the opportunity to ask the AIA San Francisco + Center for Architecture + Design Executive Director, Margie O'Driscoll some questions about Unbuilt SF.

What is the most outlandish of all the unbuilt plans?

(Laughs) Outlandish is always in the eye of the beholder! All the images in the exhibition stretch the imagination. What is most inspiring to me are the architects who are seeking to use design to solve serious challenges to our city. For example, Kuth Ranieri’s, “Folding Water” considers the challenge of rising sea level in the San Francisco Bay in a scientific and elegant manner. And Fougeron Architecture’s vision of a future San Francisco with agriculture woven into a high rise, challenges us to think about the “skin” of a building.

Do you have to know anything about architecture to enjoy this exhibit?

This exhibition is curated especially for those who aren’t trained in architecture, as are all the events in the Architecture and the City festival which takes place during September.  The exhibitions and festival are meant to create interesting opportunities to rediscover the city we love through a new lens and engage the general public in conversation about the buildings that surrounds us. Cities are dynamic and ever-changing and, while the buildings that do get built shape our memory of our city, the ghosts of what might have been will always inspire our imagination! And for those looking for some additional insight, we will be hosting a PechaKucha format presentation with designers featured in the exhibition on September 5. 


"United Nations Capitol" by Vincent G. Raney, AIA Architect

Are there any unbuilt plans that your heart aches especially for because they seem like great additions to the city?

I wish that San Francisco had become the home for the United Nations. The UN charter was signed here and San Francisco almost became home to the UN, not New York. Just imagine how the axis of international power might have shifted if the UN was here! OMA’s Prada Store at Union Square generated enormous controversy when it was proposed a little over a decade ago. People called it “the cheese grater” since the idea of a perforated metal skin for a building seemed like a wild idea to some San Franciscans– only to have the DeYoung architects, Herzog and deMueron take this idea one step further with a copper metal skin. Sometimes San Franciscans find it easier to reject these new ideas at first glance only to embrace them at the next time around.


Ferry Building proposal by William Merchant, courtesy of Environmental Design Archives, College of Environmental Design, U.C. Berkeley.

Would you say SF has always been resistant to change? Is it more or less resistant now?

As a native San Franciscan, I can say that we think we live in the center of our own universe. For people who arrive here from other places, there is often a desire to preserve the city as it was when they arrived, in perpetuity. And I fear those of us in middle-age can be most resistant to change. I think of cities as dynamic organisms meeting new needs and opportunities. I don’t think that every building on a block should look the same- that is a suburban, not urban sensibility. I think the most interesting streets are ones built over time – not those built to look the same. I think modern architecture often looks most interesting between Victorians just as every European city has a splendid mixture of centuries of architectural styles side by side.


A rendering of urban life in 100 years by Fougeron Architecture courtesy of AIA San Francisco + Center for Architecture + Design

Check out more from Unbuilt San Francisco at participating venues, including California Historical Society and The Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley which has unbuilt projects from other cities in the Bay Area through December.