Contract - Informing the Masses

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Informing the Masses

19 April, 2010

-By Jennifer Thiele Busch



It’s not always easy to engage citizens in a civil and intelligent discussion about public policy, but the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) is doing its part to encourage informed public dialogue about urban development in the City by the Bay. Helping it achieve its mission is a new LEED-certified headquarters by Pfau Long Architecture, that demonstrates first-hand how good design plays an important role in the future of our cities.

SPUR, a broad-based “think tank” organization that promotes good planning and good government for both citizens and city officials through research, analysis, public education, and advocacy, was existing in overcrowded conditions in a nondescript building in an isolated location in San Francisco when its board of directors voted in 1999 to relocate the organization to a new home that would improve SPUR’s visibility and access to the public. The decision percolated for a few years, until Diane Filippi was hired as urban center director and charged with making it happen. “They really felt they had to make a choice about the future,” Filippi says. “The move was a metaphor for the organization to expand its mission.”

Peter Winkelstein, a retired principal and colleague of Filippi’s at San Francisco-based Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris (now Perkins+Will) assumed the chair of a 70-person building committee, which ultimately selected Pfau Long Architecture as the designer for the new headquarters. “Peter Pfau understood SPUR and used a metaphor about a little building among tall buildings,” says Filippi. “We are a little organization that is pretty powerful.”

When a feasibility study determined that the existing building on the new site would not be able to meet SPUR’s needs, the organization opted for demolition and new construction and gave Pfau Long broad control over the design. Nevertheless, the building committee supplied a list of descriptive terms by way of communicating expectations. “We were not going to tell Peter Pfau how to design the building, but we were going to give him some adjectives,” recalls Filippi.

The words the building committee used were transparency, visibility, presence, lightness, welcoming, accessibility, function, flexibility, and sustainability, but Pfau’s firm first spent a good deal of time figuring out how to efficiently deliver the required functions in the allotted square footage within a tight budget. The need to accommodate exhibition, public gathering, work, and research spaces, as well as support services, in a deep, narrow floor plate dictated a building with stacked functions and active vertical circulation to tie them all together. “We knew the ground floor had to be open with exhibit space, and we needed a large space for public meetings,” explains Winkelstein. The third floor was assigned to the staff as the working floor, and the fourth was finished out with library space that is flexible for gathering or to accommodate future growth.

Yet addressing the functional needs was only a limited part of the challenge. “There was always this notion of transparency,” Pfau explains. “SPUR makes the public process in San Francisco visible and subject to discussion,” and that mission was quite literally translated into architecture. “We added a retail component so the people of San Francisco are invited into the process,” he continues. “The desire to make SPUR visible and inviting were the drivers for the façade.”

On a heavily trafficked section of Mission Street known for its high-profile museums—including Libeskind’s Jewish Museum and the Museum of the African Diaspora designed by Freelon Architects—SPUR’s glass and metal façade, bright orange signage, and tower of backlit translucent glass—which hides the internal stairwell and allows copious amounts of natural light into that interior space—serves as a beacon to attract public attention. At the street level, a high degree of transparency reveals the Center’s exhibition and gathering spaces, literally inviting in passersby. “The energy of the building activates the street,” says Pfau. Apparently, the move to create a retail presence has paid off. “The new visible, open, hipper building has completely changed the demography of SPUR members,” he continues. “There has been a 75 percent increase in participation among young people who want to make cities better.”

The interiors are spare and simple, the result of both a tight budget and the need for maximum flexibility. Block walls, steel tresses, and basic materials create a neutral backdrop, allowing nearly every part of the building—walls, floors, and ceilings—to be used as exhibit space, while pops of bright color add interest. “Everything is pretty much what it is,” notes Pfau. “There is a straightforwardness and honesty about how it goes about doing what it does. That was the driver for the aesthetics.”

“The interiors are a good demonstration of what you can do with off-the-shelf products,” notes Winkelstein. Many interior elements were donated or provided at reduced cost, with Teknion, Steelcase, Knoll, Vitra, and Interface providing the lion’s share of the furnishings and finishes. Pfau and SPUR have Emily Fettig in the San Francisco office of HOK to thank for that. “HOK generally gets involved in projects like this,” she says. “I was chosen because I specify a lot of furniture, and I have a lot of connections.” What began with tremendous enthusiasm on the part of potential donors waned somewhat when the economic crisis hit in the middle of the process, but Fettig was undaunted. “It all came together, and I had a ball,” she says. “It was really client driven, and we wouldn’t take no for an answer.”


Informing the Masses

19 April, 2010


Iwan Baan

It’s not always easy to engage citizens in a civil and intelligent discussion about public policy, but the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) is doing its part to encourage informed public dialogue about urban development in the City by the Bay. Helping it achieve its mission is a new LEED-certified headquarters by Pfau Long Architecture, that demonstrates first-hand how good design plays an important role in the future of our cities.

SPUR, a broad-based “think tank” organization that promotes good planning and good government for both citizens and city officials through research, analysis, public education, and advocacy, was existing in overcrowded conditions in a nondescript building in an isolated location in San Francisco when its board of directors voted in 1999 to relocate the organization to a new home that would improve SPUR’s visibility and access to the public. The decision percolated for a few years, until Diane Filippi was hired as urban center director and charged with making it happen. “They really felt they had to make a choice about the future,” Filippi says. “The move was a metaphor for the organization to expand its mission.”

Peter Winkelstein, a retired principal and colleague of Filippi’s at San Francisco-based Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris (now Perkins+Will) assumed the chair of a 70-person building committee, which ultimately selected Pfau Long Architecture as the designer for the new headquarters. “Peter Pfau understood SPUR and used a metaphor about a little building among tall buildings,” says Filippi. “We are a little organization that is pretty powerful.”

When a feasibility study determined that the existing building on the new site would not be able to meet SPUR’s needs, the organization opted for demolition and new construction and gave Pfau Long broad control over the design. Nevertheless, the building committee supplied a list of descriptive terms by way of communicating expectations. “We were not going to tell Peter Pfau how to design the building, but we were going to give him some adjectives,” recalls Filippi.

The words the building committee used were transparency, visibility, presence, lightness, welcoming, accessibility, function, flexibility, and sustainability, but Pfau’s firm first spent a good deal of time figuring out how to efficiently deliver the required functions in the allotted square footage within a tight budget. The need to accommodate exhibition, public gathering, work, and research spaces, as well as support services, in a deep, narrow floor plate dictated a building with stacked functions and active vertical circulation to tie them all together. “We knew the ground floor had to be open with exhibit space, and we needed a large space for public meetings,” explains Winkelstein. The third floor was assigned to the staff as the working floor, and the fourth was finished out with library space that is flexible for gathering or to accommodate future growth.

Yet addressing the functional needs was only a limited part of the challenge. “There was always this notion of transparency,” Pfau explains. “SPUR makes the public process in San Francisco visible and subject to discussion,” and that mission was quite literally translated into architecture. “We added a retail component so the people of San Francisco are invited into the process,” he continues. “The desire to make SPUR visible and inviting were the drivers for the façade.”

On a heavily trafficked section of Mission Street known for its high-profile museums—including Libeskind’s Jewish Museum and the Museum of the African Diaspora designed by Freelon Architects—SPUR’s glass and metal façade, bright orange signage, and tower of backlit translucent glass—which hides the internal stairwell and allows copious amounts of natural light into that interior space—serves as a beacon to attract public attention. At the street level, a high degree of transparency reveals the Center’s exhibition and gathering spaces, literally inviting in passersby. “The energy of the building activates the street,” says Pfau. Apparently, the move to create a retail presence has paid off. “The new visible, open, hipper building has completely changed the demography of SPUR members,” he continues. “There has been a 75 percent increase in participation among young people who want to make cities better.”

The interiors are spare and simple, the result of both a tight budget and the need for maximum flexibility. Block walls, steel tresses, and basic materials create a neutral backdrop, allowing nearly every part of the building—walls, floors, and ceilings—to be used as exhibit space, while pops of bright color add interest. “Everything is pretty much what it is,” notes Pfau. “There is a straightforwardness and honesty about how it goes about doing what it does. That was the driver for the aesthetics.”

“The interiors are a good demonstration of what you can do with off-the-shelf products,” notes Winkelstein. Many interior elements were donated or provided at reduced cost, with Teknion, Steelcase, Knoll, Vitra, and Interface providing the lion’s share of the furnishings and finishes. Pfau and SPUR have Emily Fettig in the San Francisco office of HOK to thank for that. “HOK generally gets involved in projects like this,” she says. “I was chosen because I specify a lot of furniture, and I have a lot of connections.” What began with tremendous enthusiasm on the part of potential donors waned somewhat when the economic crisis hit in the middle of the process, but Fettig was undaunted. “It all came together, and I had a ball,” she says. “It was really client driven, and we wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
 


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