Paula Hendricks

Author ~:~ Writer ~:~ Book Designer ~:~ Book Producer

101 Second, San Francisco

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I want to write about place. I want to write about how my environments affect me. I want to voice my opinion about buildings and cityscapes. And I’m terrified that my thoughts will go into a black hole and no one will pay attention. That what I care about and what I think about what I care about won’t matter.

I have not submitted my ideas to anyone because I felt unqualified. Untrained, Uneducated. Unfamiliar. With the world of the built environment. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t. I thought perhaps I was out of synch with my times.

I have often told friends how much I hate all these glass towers. I imagine streets 6 feet deep in glass after an earthquake – or might that be 15 feet deep as towers grow taller and there are more of them closer together. I hate glass towers because I don’t know where my bookshelves would go or my art or how I could protect it from light and heat.

And how can I work in an office with too much light, too much glare? Where can my eyes relax, open easily and wide? Where can I angle my laptop screen so I can see it and work easily?

Why do we value light, at the expense of shadow? I believe that the light I see and appreciate is defined by shadow. Highlights are dramatic only if there is shadow. And conversely, shadow is enhanced by light. All shadow is darkness and all light is blinding. What I hunger for is balance and often these new buildings are all about light and not at all about shadows.

As a photographer I often process what I see through a lens. I think I like my views framed as well.

* * * * *

And just to complicate things more, I see the city as public space and private space. I use the city as my front porch and sometimes as my living room, my dining room. Trend experts call this the third place. It’s mine and I want all the pieces to function in a way that enhances the whole.

Let me give you an example. There is a fairly new (1999) commercial building at 101 Second Street at Mission that has gotten great reviews – from traditional architecture reviewers and from John King, who writes the Place column in the San Francisco Chronicle. I like John King. I like his column and his perspective. I value his opinion. So, I went to see this building. I committed to walking into the lobby, which was described as this great public space – important as more private spaces, like building lobbies become de facto public spaces for lounging and eating lunch.

In his review King said this building was one of San Francisco’s best recent buildings, that it ‘brought a suave sophistication to the corner of Second and Mission streets, as well as the jewel-box-like public atrium.” That it connected with the street in a positive way – from having great views through 60 foot walls to the “genuinely inviting feel” of the public atrium.

So, I went. I wanted to give this building another chance. Maybe I wasn’t looking at it carefully enough. This is a building I have disliked from the moment I saw it go up – it feels cold and uninviting and uses up street space with nothing interesting to look at as you walk along the street in front of it. It offers nothing in return. But, hey, what do I know. I’ll go; I’ll go inside; I’ll let myself open to possibilities.

From across the street, I stood and looked at it. Okay, I like the greenish color of the glass. And I kind of like the Miami louvered window aspect as well. And it looks like the large window panels have been opened to create access in and out of the building – to allow street access directly through the windows. Wow, that’s great. I cross the street and see that the windows are not open, just very clean, and they don’t open, can’t open.

But, I go in anyway; through these institutional glass doors with silvery metal handles. And then I’m inside; in this very big cube with 2 glass walls (onto Second and onto Mission) with one or two tall palm tree like plants. And maybe a dozen scattered metal tables with metal chairs. All very clean. All very slick. All very sterile.

But, I know there’s a Peet’s Coffee here. I read it in the review, so it’s got to be true. Hmm, so I walk around and spy in the far corner, behind some structural pillars a plain institutional door, plain white, silver metal handles, like a storage room door… and there’s Peet’s – like this is the back door to Peet’s. Hunh.

And nearby is a model of the whole building, which I like. I can see the tower that sets back from this private-public space, which I can’t really see from street level. And I can see that this building is just another glass office block. And I am so disappointed.

The lobby is cold and sterile. And if I sat there, I would hardly hear the street at all. It was quiet, hushed, and yet not private, sounds carried within the space. I didn’t see a mezzanine, which I had also read about, let alone how to get to it, and I realized what a missed opportunity this is. To connect this space with the street. To allow easier flow inside and out. To communicate that this private space can be used by the public. To let us see into Peet’s, not hide it behind an industrial door.

We humans like to watch. Watch people, Watch people work. Watch street life. But behind glass walls, it’s just too removed for me.

© 2007 Paula Hendricks

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Written by phwebnet

June 20, 2008 at 6:17 pm

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