Thu. 10.01.09

Harry Wakefield
Bay Area Modern: Looking Back
Architects & Contractors: Dec 21, 2004

bam-outside.jpgThe San Francisco bay area, due to having been planned and replanned by so many different people with so many different and seemingly conflicting plans for the area's future - combined with the unique topography and weather of the area - provides an especially varied canvas for architects and designers to work with and from. The range of styles visible in architectural design in the area is perhaps wider than anywhere else in the United States: while much of the world might see us all as living in Craftsman bungalows, Victorian row-houses, Mission haciendas and ultra-modern loft apartments, the reality, outside of certain historically-preserved areas and SoMA, is very different.

+ Turnbull; Esherick; Hill; Maybeck; Morgan
+ Wright's Marin Civic Center

It is almost impossible to talk about the buildings where many of us live and work today in Northern California without certain names cropping up over and over. Because the individual style and sensibility of these architects and designers - William Turnbull and his colleagues at MLTW, Joseph Esherick and EHDD, William Wurster, Henry Hill, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, Mario Ciampi and dozens of others - is so bound up in what it means to live in the Bay Area, and because their work has had such tremendous impact on so many designers who came after them, it might be impossible to picture what our area could have looked like without them - and why would we want to? It certainly would not have been as interesting as our current exciting and colorful chaos.

For example: what if MLTW had not been hired for UCSC's Kresge College or Lawrence House and the condominium units at Sea Ranch? What if Mario Ciampi had never submitted a brief for Berkeley's University Art Museum, or if Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo had refused the Oakland Museum project? Esherick's mazelike Cannery renovation/recreation has had a tremendous impact on how urban shopping structures are designed - what if the developers had decided to put a multiplex there instead, as was done on the site of the Kabuki nightclub, and raze the pre-existing brick structure? What if Frank Lloyd Wright had hated Marin as much as he hated Manhattan, and had played a cruel joke on all of us with a different design for the Civic Center?

We can't be appropriately thankful to each of these people for their contributions both to how and where we live, and for the shape of things to come; their influence will continue to be felt as it ripples out through the lifetime of our area. Bay Area residents are lucky enough to live in an area where architectural education isn't just the realm of architects and planners: we see amazing museum exhibits on our streets every day, and while we may lack the Chrysler Buildings and Sears Towers of other cities, our much more human-sized architecture is more vibrant, colorful and varied than that found anywhere else in the country.

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