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The Best New Buildings of the Decade

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It's been quite the ride, these last 10 years, but the '00s have just about come to an end. That's Curbed SF's cue to look back at what the past decade has brought us, in an end-of-decade series called Top of the Aughts. First, and most obviously: the best buildings! To get some help in naming them, we went knocking on the doors of architects, architecture writers, and urbanists to stir up some nominations, and we got a few to talk about some of our choices. Note, first, that the first decade of the 21st century hasn't exactly been pretty. The city of proud Victorians has had to dig in for some funky designs that, to this day, are still love-or-hate. And may remain so forever. Still, the buildings that made our Top 10 have all made waves, turned heads, and have often totally energized their neighborhoods — and in some cases, the city.

10) JPMorgan Chase Building
Location: 560 Mission St., SoMa
Architect: Cesar Pelli
Year completed: 2002
The skinny: Pelli Clarke Pelli says their SoMa office building, which is "both modern and classical," references the 1918 Hallidie Building in the FiDi. The building had to do a little massaging to get to the finish line: it was too bulky and too dark, both no-no's in the city's planning code. Now the bamboo-laden mini-retreat to its side is a total favorite among open-space geeks. Yeah, there's such thing.

"Besides the retro-modern look, the building's boxiness and dark feel stand out among the newer neighbors." —John King, Urban Design Critic, San Francisco Chronicle

9) The Infinity
Location: 300 Spear St., Rincon Hill
Architect: Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica, and Heller Manus
Year completed: 2009
The skinny: Either the Infinity's not just another Rincon Hill high-rise, or its hype machine can work wonders. Where its neighbors are blocky and angular, the Infinity duo's all curves. The sibling 36- and 42-story towers have the notable distinction of having actually powered through the economic sadness, and the condos are also selling briskly: sign No. 1 of a not-too-shabby project.

"The Infinity ties into its surroundings with a genuinely inviting urbanity, albeit global and glassy in feel." —John King

8) Curran House
Location: 145 Taylor St., The Tenderloin
Architect: David Baker
Year completed: 2005
The skinny: David Baker's made something of a name for himself pushing for less parking rather than more, all for the sake of slashing at carbon emissions. In this project, Baker fought parking requirements and built an affordable housing complex with no parking at all — instead filling it with more families and a "decompression" garden accessed by what looks like a garage door. The result has been called a Tenderloin "oasis" more than once.

"Shows what you can do with determination, good design, low budgets, and great imagination. Love the rooftop gardens, the lack of parking, the human-centeredness of it all." —Allison Arieff, New York Times "By Design" columnist and former Dwell editor-in-chief

7) La Cocina
Location: 2948 Folsom St., The Mission
Architect: Paulett Taggart
Year completed: 2005
The skinny: The mission matters as much here as the architecture— La Cocina's the famous kitchen incubator in the Mission that helps women, mostly immigrants, start their own restaurants and food businesses. The contemporary building also manages to sit pretty humbly between its old-school neighbors in a residential area.

"Restrained but beautifully conceived and executed ... with a complex urban program of industrial and housing elegantly served." —David Baker, AIA Fellow

6) 355 11th St
Architects: Aidlin Darling Design
Year completed: 2008
The skinny: The turn-of-the-century industrial building in SoMa was part of a number of buildings belonging to the Jackson Brewing Company — thus deemed historic and off limits to dramatic changes. But dramatic they did anyway, while somehow keeping the building's face intact. Victory: Aidlin Darling did convince the city to allow them to combine three windows into a single big one. When Gavin Newsom signed the city's green building legislation last year, it was in this building, which happens to have a LEED Gold rating.

"Green, fresh, beautifully detailed. A wonderful work."—David Baker

5) Yerba Buena Lofts
Location: 855 Folsom St., SoMa
Architect: Stanley Saitowitz
Year completed: 2002
The skinny: John King noted in 2004 that the 150 judges who compiled "The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture" found only one building to note in San Francisco: the Yerba Buena Lofts. Modeled on the city grid, it's instead ended up being continuously compared to Soviet housing, if not a level in Unreal Tournament. But! The YBL's stood the test of almost a decade's time now as cheaper insta-condos rose nearby, and architects nationwide still have their eyes on Stan the Man.

"Stanley has his moments, and this is one of them. An urban building that doesn't follow the crowd, but has strong character and works well in the city." —David Baker

"The monochromatic rigor exudes a dignified calm — especially in comparison with the poorly detailed schlock of the newer housing on the block." —John King

4) Federal Building
Location: 90 7th St., SoMa
Architect: Thom Mayne of Morphosis
Year completed: 2007
The skinny: Imposing as federal buildings tend to be, but — love it or hate it — without their typical flatness. Mayne became the star child of the General Services Administration's Design Excellence program with SoMa's craziest new building. It's meant to engage the public — security bollards as seats! — but some of us still call it "misanthropic." The building, including its mid-air "sky garden," finally opened to the public in October 2008.

"Its slender form and perforated metal skin (are) a clever play on notions of transparency in an era when the fear of terrorist attacks is prompting government agencies and corporations to turn their offices into armored compounds." —Nicolai Ourousoff, New York Times

"Thom's kindest and gentlest building, really: harsh and virile, breaking the rules of urban design, but too brilliant to deny." —David Baker

"(One of the) most important and noteworthy buildings to go up in San Francisco in the last decade." —Neil Kaye, Saitowitz | Natoma Architects

3) Ferry Building
Location: 1 Ferry Building, The Embarcadero
Architects: SMWM, BCV, Page & Turnbull
Year completed: 2003
The skinny: It's not new, but it's new to us! The 1898 Ferry Building's gone from dead and isolated pre-quake to an icon of the waterfront and the city, and is now the go-to place for artisan (insert food item here). Out with the freeway, in with Slanted Door, as they say. SMWM's proposal for the Ferry Building's redesign won out over all others because it had the most emphasis on public space.

"One of the few places that fosters real community in the city." —Allison Arieff

"The pigeons that had roosted in the rafters are now replaced by light, air, and the scent of fine dark chocolate and a precious salumeria. Simply spectacular." —Margie O'Driscoll, Executive Director, AIA San Francisco

2) California Academy of Sciences
Location: 55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park
Architect: Renzo Piano
Year completed: 2008
The skinny: The world's favorite Italian starchitect brought us this dramatic rebuild of the quake-damaged academy — saving practically only a couple leftovers from the old building. The resulting building nabbed a rare LEED Platinum rating for ultra-greenness. Fun defining feature: the hollow green hills on the roof. Not so fun feature: long, long lines. Other fun feature: Claude, the albino alligator!

"A famous architect told me that her enjoyment of the building has nothing to do with its success as architecture. I disagree. It's one of the best things to happen in San Francisco in a long time." —Allison Arieff

"An embodiment of everything San Franciscans cherish ... sustainable principles and values of a healthy planet, in a building that is as green as they come, with architecture that is breathtaking (and they even managed to satisfy our yearning for great food in the food court!)" —Margie O'Driscoll

"The ethereality of the academy's structure suggests a form of reparations for the great harm humans have done to the natural world." —Nicolai Ourousoff

1) de Young Museum
Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., Golden Gate Park
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Year completed: 2005
The skinny: The old buildings that constituted the de Young were, not surprisingly, damaged in the '89 quake, and their replacement only got built thanks to what the Guardian UK called a "near-miraculous combination of fund-raising and nerve." Yeah, the nerve! After funding got voted down twice in a row, philanthropist Dede Wilsey said something along the lines of, "Screw it, I'm raising all the money myself." Then a committee chose Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, and things really went nuclear. The brave little copper museum pushed through somehow (without the benefit of being a federal building), and today it has some of the best views of the bay in the outer lands, not to mention an internationally renowned design.

"When you look down from Parnassus, the building emerges from the green carpet of the park as a steel sculpture and beautifully contrasts with the adjacent Academy of Sciences, which takes the exact opposite approach and tucks itself under the same green blanket." —Anne Gluch, Associate Director, AIA San Francisco

"This building suggests that art and architecture can make good bed partners, after all, and that a dialogue between the two can be creatively fruitful." —Nicolai Ourousoff

"This runs circles around the yucky SFMoMA. And I still can't believe it got built in San Francisco." —Allison Arieff


Whew. Check out the runners up, too!

355 11th St

355 11th St, San Francisco, CA

Curran House Apartments

145 Taylor Street, San Francisco, California 94102