by Rachel Bramwell, Senior Strategist
At MKThink we talk a lot about balance in order to create successful spaces: designing a balance of different types of spaces, for different users, and for different purposes. Cities are fascinating places because of their dynamic and dichotomous nature. Successfully designed cities balance productive economies, public space, housing, and nature, amongst many other uses. After deciding to leave San Francisco for the other coast, I wanted to explore some of the places in San Francisco that were sanctuaries in the city, peaceful and calm, and/or connected to natural elements; places that overall create a sense of balance in contrast to the density of the city. Here are some of the highlights:
This first one is an actual sanctuary. Completed in 1895 and designed by Bernard Maybeck, the Swedenborgian Church is an exemplary example of Arts and Crafts architecture in California. The Arts and Crafts movement started in the late 1800s as a reaction against mass production design (and subsequent lower quality) brought about by the Industrial Revolution. It sought to create design that was high quality, handcrafted, and accessible to everyday people (they were successful with the first two points). Located in Pacific Heights, this church is unassuming and almost looks Romanesque Revival from the street, but as you enter, the space opens up into a beautiful garden and sanctuary inspired by nature. Some Swedenborgian teachings focus on man’s connection with nature, as can be seen in the design of the church, with its unfinished wooden beams supporting the roof. Fun fact: At one time it was the most popular venue for weddings in the country.
Tenderloin National Forest
The Tenderloin National Forest is not a forest, but in fact a 25 by 136 foot converted alley (originally called Cohen Place). The Luggage Store Gallery directors transformed the alley from 1989 to 2009 into a community and urban art space complete with murals, party lights, landscaping, and a wood-burning oven. In 2000, the Luggage Store directors negotiated a lease with the City of San Francisco for $1.00 per year, which permanently closed the alley to traffic. A large red steel gate designed by the artist Kevin Leeper serves as the entrance to the alley and separates the space from Ellis Street. The space feels completely removed from the neighborhood and city that surrounds it — it is quiet, and filled with plants, nature, and art. I visited the “forest” on a walking tour of the Tenderloin run through the Tenderloin Museum; otherwise it is open Wednesday to Saturday 11am-3pm.
Privately Owned Public Open Space @ 1 Kearny Rooftop
Privately Owned Public Open Space (otherwise known as POPOS in San Francisco) are defined by the City as “publicly accessible spaces in forms of plazas, terraces, atriums, small parks, and even snippets which are provided and maintained by private developers,” though we all know they are usually synonymous with otherwise known as POPOS in San Francisco) are usually synonymous with 1980s-style urban plazas complete with defensive architecture and a lack of landscape (save for maybe a water feature). POPOS have been a development requirement since the passage of San Francisco’s 1985 Downtown Plan, which required developers to provide publicly accessible open space as a part of projects in some commercial districts. I went to several rooftop POPOS (using SPUR’s guide), and by far the best one was at 1 Kearny in the Financial District, overlooking Market Street with views of SoMa. It is not obvious from the street, but once you take the elevator up, you come out on the roof of this Market Street office building. The space has views of SoMa and Market Street, and when I was there at lunchtime, there were only two other people. This would be a great place to read, have lunch or coffee, or have a meeting.
Grand View Park
The stairs to this park (the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps) are by far more famous than what they lead to. While the steps draw a lot of visitors, Grand View Park is considerably quieter, though located just above the stairs. It is a hill of a park, rising out of the Inner Sunset and covered with sand. It is a nice little hike to the top up a few stair cases, and at the top offers great views of the Pacific, Presidio, Marin, and downtown (naturally it was foggy when I went). The Internet says it is called Turtle Hill by locals, but I’ve never heard anyone say this.
The Wood Line at the Presidio
The tree trunk-inspired installation art by the artist Andy Goldsworthy was a nice walk, but also one of the more overrated things that I did. As a person standing at 5’4”, it was hard to see the winding pattern that the installation is meant to create through the clearing. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but basically the installation is several connected curvy tree trunks woven through a grove of eucalyptus trees (also known as Lovers Lane) in the Presidio. The following art commentary is brought to you by the presidio.gov: “Begun in 2010 and completed a year later, Wood Line offers a stark contrast with Goldsworthy’s first Presidio piece, the towering Spire. Whereas Spire calls upon viewers to look up, Wood Line invites you to contemplate where the life of a tree begins…the fertile earth. On this very site in the late 1800s, the Army planted eucalyptus with rows of Monterey cypress interspersed, part of its program to create a green canopy all around the Presidio. Conditions did not favor the cypress and they died out, leaving open gaps. Wood Line fills one of these gaps with a quiet, graceful, sinuous sculpture that, in the artist’s words, “draws the place.””
The Wave Organ
This was number two on the overrated list, but an interesting concept nonetheless and cool sculpture. The Wave Organ sits on an jetty in the San Francisco Bay marina. It was built in 1986 by the Exploratorium Artists in Residence. From the Exploratorium: “The jetty itself was constructed with material taken from a demolished cemetery, providing a wonderful assortment of carved granite and marble, which was used in the construction of this piece. The installation includes 25 organ pipes made of PVC and concrete located at various elevations within the site, allowing for the rise and fall of the tides. Sound is created by the impact of waves against the pipe ends and the subsequent movement of the water in and out of the pipes. The sound heard at the site is subtle, requiring visitors to become sensitized to its music, and at the same time to the music of the environment.” I couldn’t actually hear the waves creating any sort of sound other than crashing waves when I was there, so I guess I was not sensitized enough to the music or environment. Fun fact: There are also wave organs in Zadar, Croatia and Blackpool, England.