The hottest high-profile architecture firm now at work in San Francisco has a third prominent assignment: a 400-foot tower at the long-neglected corner of Market Street and Van Ness Avenue.
The firm is Snøhetta, designer of the new wing of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as well as the arena that the Golden State Warriors hope to build in Mission Bay. This would be the first U.S. tower for Snøhetta, founded in Norway but on the rise in the United States since being selected in 2004 to design the pavilion for the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum.
Snøhetta will replace an even better-known architect for the corner: Richard Meier, the Pritzker Prize-winning designer of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, whose firm has been working on a tower in the same location since 2008.
Meier’s concept was a tapered shaft with soft curves, clad in glass intended to resemble a slit veil. The design being crafted by Snøhetta and the San Francisco office of SCB won’t be released until later this year, according to the site’s new developer.
“We’re looking for a pragmatic design that is buildable, but with artistic and civic creativity,” said Michael Yarne of Build Inc., a local developer. Build Inc. and GTIS Partners of New York recently purchased the site from the prior developers. It also has the doughnut shop next door under contract, a small building that occupies the northwest corner of the intersection.
According to Yarne, the changes sought by the new developers go beyond the addition of a tower. The larger desire is to move the existing Muni subway stop at Market on the west side of Van Ness — squalid even by neighborhood standards — one block north to Oak Street. There, it would serve as the focus of a new public plaza extending to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, which moved to the first block of Oak Street in 2006.
These larger ambitions help explain the presence of Snøhetta. The firm is best known for buildings like the waterfront opera house in Oslo, but it has a cadre of landscape architects with a project list that includes the ongoing makeover of New York’s Times Square. Snøhetta also heads one of the five design teams in the ideas competition for 13 acres of the Presidio between Crissy Field and the parade grounds of the Army post-turned-national park.
“We want to combine an iconic high-rise with really intimate place-making,” Yarne said. “This should be a great public space with a tower flowing up from it.”
The tower conceived by Meier came and went several times in the past five years. It was held up in part by the prior developer’s financial strains and the larger recession, but also by wind conditions at the corner that make the addition of any tower there difficult. Because of this, the Meier design had been altered in the past year or so to include a canopy that would drape above Oak Street.
“We have never heard of these kinds of wind regulations,” one of Meier’s junior partners told the New York Times in 2012 in voicing frustration about the fitting of a “freestanding sculptural object” into the exposed location at the edge of San Francisco’s downtown core.
The upside for the new developers is that they inherit a development proposal already filed, as well as the technical work and wind studies that will be updated to reflect the new tower design. Yarne said the hope is to receive final approvals next fall.
While the design will change, the height will remain within the current 400-foot zoning for the corner. There would be approximately 300 condominiums set above retail space and a residential lobby that would face the new Oak Street plaza. The initial concept calls for the tower’s required affordable housing to be built nearby, on land that Build Inc. is preparing to develop three blocks away along Octavia Boulevard.
Author: John King