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Special Hearing on Contemporary Design in Historic SOMA

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Yesterday the Planning and Historic Preservation Commissions got together for an information presentation on contemporary architectural design in historic South of Market neighborhoods. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Prof. Renee Chow from UC Berkeley presented some suggestions for additions of new construction in SOMA historic districts.

After urban renewal, where swaths of cities were razed for new building projects, buildings became associated with corporations or architects instead of their place or context (think "Transamerica Building"). She says the buildings were more important than the relationships between them. Since SOMA is an eclectic mix of buildings, how can it be retooled with new construction? Since the blocks are so large, the alley ways in between can become connectors. The commissioners totally loved that idea.

One example she used was the Yerba Buena Lofts. One block of the development has the open space plaza in the center, cutting people off from the street. Another block has parking in the middle and entries on the street, which adds life to the street. She also suggested using architectural forms for orientation (differing depending on whether it's a number or name streets) and placing large high-density buildings on corners to aid in direction.

So tips for evaluating new construction: instead of how it looks, how does it perform? Does the individual project add to the city as a whole? And will it add to the neighborhood's heritage? The biggest take home point: it's not contemporary vs. historic. History is constantly being made and new buildings have a place in that history. Sounds good to us!
· Presentation on website for comments [CAD]