San Francisco’s New Center For Architecture + Design Is Here To Level The Playing Field
The team behind the city’s Shape Your City initiative discuss creating a home that celebrates the universal power of design.
Construction on the Center for Architecture + Design’s new space will begin this summer. The Shape Your City campaign, launched in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects, San Francisco (AIASF), seeks to tap into the transformative power of design and advance the public conversation surrounding it. The campaign will help fund the construction of the Center and support the expansion of public design programs.
“If you look at most first-world countries, whether it’s Latin America, Canada, Europe or Asia, their cultural understanding of the power of design is quite sophisticated,” says Joshua Aidlin, FAIA, a founding partner of Aidlin Darling Design and lead architect of the project.
“There’s a reverence for the value that design brings, whether that’s a bus stop, a bench on the street, graphics on the subway, or parks and buildings. In America, unfortunately, that’s been stunted, and there’s more of a focus on capitalism and money-making.”
The AIASF and the Center for Architecture + Design are here to change that by creating a cultural hub that focuses on design in all mediums, whether that’s graphic, industrial, interior, landscape or something else. As Aidlin continues, “It’s really aggressive public outreach to raise the bar and understanding of what design can contribute in every walk of life, every day.”
As an organization, AIASF has been working in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 140 years, representing members in the architecture community but also acting as a resource for the general public, constantly looking at how design can enhance quality of life. This new centre marks the next step in the institution’s journey.
Stacy Williams, executive director at AIASF and the Center for Architecture + Design, shares that, to her knowledge, this is the first attempt of its kind, and emphasizes the importance of wanting it to be a catalyst for conversation. “We want to be the first place the discussion happens, and a safe place where people can come and just throw crazy ideas around to see what sticks,” she says. “Let’s just talk about design and how it affects people, their daily lives and how we can make it better.”
Amy Ress, deputy director of the AIASF and the Center for Architecture + Design, agrees, saying the centre has the potential to “level the playing field, bringing new audiences to learn about these things simply by pointing to the room and talking about how it was built and the goals behind it.”
The facility itself will be located on the ground floor of San Francisco’s historic Hallidie Building, at 140 Sutter St., and has been crafted from the ground up to cater to the huge variety of programs and initiatives taking place, including lectures, rotating galleries, youth programs and walking tours. Technology has also been integrated into the process so conversations can be shared internationally. “In a way, the architecture drops away to create a very flexible space that serves programming all day into the evening, five to six days a week,” Aidlin continues.
The more you discuss the centre with this team, the more you understand the level of detail that went into it. For example, they talk about working with an acoustics consultant. “Acoustics touch everything, from the theatre to the overhead HVAC, and how you minimize the sound,” Williams says. “It permeated the entire project.”
Ress talks about the challenge of finding a solution to the fact the space was set on different levels, and the process of coming up with numerous proposals to solve it.
The trio also shared how the pandemic had an impact. “We had an interesting opportunity because of COVID,” Williams says. “We started from scratch with the HVAC in the space, so we were able to design it with the pandemic in mind. It’s a brand-new filtration and movement system, which has all been taken into account.”
However, it’s clear these challenges and solutions all came from collaboration and a meeting of minds that worked in unison to push the envelope. Williams reiterates that “design is not for the select few, or the wealthy. Design is for everybody, and it’s an important aspect.”
Ress shares how much she enjoyed that collaboration. “We’re working with large firms and sole practitioners, an A-list architect, and everyone’s part of this barn-raising effort to bring this project to life,” she says. “I sense a commitment, dedication and special place in everyone’s heart to make this dream a reality.”
While this project is based in San Francisco, and a lot of the work will be focused on innovation and progression within the city, for the team the international appeal is undeniable. “If this beta works,” says Aidlin, “I think we can roll it out in every city across the country.”
Interview by Estelle Zentil