CIVIC DESIGN REVIEW COMMITTEE
Monday, February 9, 2009
25 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 70
Commissioners Present: Topher Delaney, Rene Bihan, Cass Calder Smith
Staff Present: Nancy Gonchar, Vicky Knoop
Call To Order: 3:05 p.m.
PUC Water System Improvement Program
Julie Labonte, Director, Water Systems Improvement Program (“WSIP”), introduced the program, currently the largest water infrastructure program in the nation. The main concern is to ensure the highest quality water to customers in the Bay Area. She explained that the system takes water from snowmelt and stores it at Hetch Hetchy reservoir to be transported by gravity to wholesale agencies. She explained that parts of the system were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and must be replaced. Currently, there isn’t proper redundancy in the system to perform maintenance and inspection work. Additionally, the pipes are located on top of the nation’s most active earthquake faults, adding to the risks of system failure.
Ms. Labonte explained that there are eighty-five proposed projects over seven counties, and projects in San Francisco County are well on their way to completion. Most of the projects will be underground in isolated areas that are not visible to the general public. The PUC will build three new pipeline tunnels including the first ever to be built under the San Francisco Bay. At this point, the Civic Design Committee has reviewed twenty-four projects with a majority being pump stations and water tank facilities within the City. She explained that the focus of the program is now moving out of San Francisco and there are only a handful of aboveground elements. Stringent security concerns also make design more challenging for the sites. She reminded the Committee that escalation costs can reach one million dollars per month for a project.
Ms. Labonte said that the PUC has a rehabilitation plan for the Alameda watershed to protect sensitive habitat and endangered species. In addition, the PUC has devoted land and resources to beautify local parks and has teamed up with sustainable agricultural organizations for community projects.
Ms. Labonte concluded that the main goal of the WSIP is to complete the projects before a major seismic event, and she hoped at this meeting to find ways to streamline the approval process. She introduced Gary Hoy, City Architect.
Mr. Hoy explained that for each project the Bureau of Architecture is trying to meet both the client’s needs and the needs of the community.
Commissioner Delaney commented that the architecture presented to the Committee doesn’t measure up to work being done around the world. She added that because the design aims to please all the stakeholders involved, it often doesn’t meet the expectations of any. She said that she didn’t see the relation of these structures to the history of Hetch Hetchy water system architecture.
Commissioner Smith said that he would like to see the architecture reflect how the system works. He would like the PUC to be more aesthetically concerned as the client and demand more from the architects to raise the quality before it reaches the Committee.
Ms. Labonte commented that it’s hard to make an architectural statement when the project’s security necessitates that the building be unassuming.
Commissioner Bihan responded that security concerns are understandable, but it’s possible to have a well designed building that isn’t a target.
Commissioner Smith commented that a single statement of the design purpose can guide the design even when the projects become driven by different pressures.
Mr. Hoy explained that engineering drives most of these projects, and the BOA is asked to provide a shell or denied the opportunity to be creative.
Commissioner Smith commented that infrastructure used to be done with a certain long-term artistic intent that is now missing.
Commissioner Bihan said that there should be some exploration of the history of architecture from the PUC. He expressed concern that the Committee often hears how there is no landscape strategy because of budget and schedule. He added that the Committee isn’t looking for residential landscaping when it isn’t appropriate, but a thoughtful approach that is fitting for the region and project site.
Commissioner Smith suggested the PUC think of a corporate model of brand management that ensures that everything reflects the purpose of this project: to make sure we have water. He asked that the PUC develop an overall concept that relates to how the WSIP structures fit within the notion of civic pride, within the Hetch Hetchy system, and what is unique to each site.
Ms. Labonte explained that the focus of the program is making the engineering work. They can’t really rethink projects that are already in construction.
Commissioner Delaney commented that the water temples were built under the same constraints during another time. She said that there is some wonderful engineering that is not being reflected aboveground.
Commissioner Smith commented that, as the client, the PUC should tell the architects what is important and develop a good architect-client relationship. He suggested that the PUC should push the architects for better design and ask for three different directions at the first meeting.
Ms. Labonte commented that the program is 70% complete in design.
Commissioner Delaney said that the buildings are the only evidence of their work and can be uplifting and good design as opposed to fear-based design.
Mr. Hoy responded that the BOA is able to do that.
Commissioner Smith suggested the PUC and BOA create a history of the architecture of Hetch Hetchy and look at the history of other water-related buildings, not to produce nostalgic architecture, but to see the importance of what they are trying to do and to move forward from that design. He added that this could be done without increasing costs and could rely on the expertise and experience of the individual architects.
San Joaquin Pipeline – Phase 1
Stanley So, Architect, BOA DPW, introduced Tracy Cael, Project Manager, SFPUC. She explained that the San Joaquin system is one of the regions of the Water System Improvement Program. Currently the pipelines are forty-one to seventy-seven years old and this project will address the need for their replacement to maintain water delivery to the Bay Area. There will be two sets of contracts, one for the pipelines and the other for the aboveground structures.
Mr. So explained that there are a total of six structures, two of which are mostly underground, and the other four are aboveground. There are two structures at each of the three locations. The Emery and Pelican crossover buildings are both located in fairly rural areas used for cattle grazing, and the buildings on these sites will use the same two designs. The control building’s concept is to look like a barn from a distance with clean lines and punch openings. It is an earth-tone color, with a metal standing roof. The entire building is reinforced concrete. The vault building is mostly below ground with access panels on the top and a guardrail fence.
Commissioner Smith asked about the roofing material.
Mr. So replied that it is metal clad with concrete panels.
Commissioner Bihan asked about landscaping.
Mr. So explained that there is no landscaping because of several issues including the lack of an irrigation system, open grazing in the area, and a PUC policy preventing trees from being planted above the pipeline.
Commissioner Smith opened the floor to public comment.
Commissioner Smith closed the floor to public comment.
Commissioner Delaney commented that she was displeased by the lack of creativity. She added that the design does not look like a barn as the architect suggested, but has only the necessities of functionality. She suggested that the design seemed prefabricated and not civically minded. She suggested that architects present three different options to the client before coming to the Committee.
Commissioner Bihan commented that the structures do not relate to each other and that one seems to be vertical and the other horizontal. He suggested that the architecture could say more about their programs without compromising security.
Commissioner Smith commented that this is a challenge as an architect, but it could be approached to either make the buildings identical or very different. He suggested that the architect approach the building with an artistic vision and possibly some relationship to the surrounding vicinity. He added that the design shouldn’t mimic anything like a barn.
Commissioner Smith pointed out that the design team should think about environmental and earthworks art. He suggested looking into the lower buildings and perhaps build a slight bulge of earth around it, or play with the proportion of horizontal versus vertical. He encouraged Mr. So to be more creative and consider berming the area.
Ms. Cael responded that a berm may be a problem because of the limited right-of-way on the land and the additional weight on the pipes.
Commission Bihan suggested that there might be a poetic way to berm.
Mr. So explained that there are two other structures similar to the other two vault buildings at the third location.
Commissioner Bihan said that the team could take the same comments and think of how the buildings look from a distance and how they look close up.
Commissioner Delaney commented that the structural element is missing and there is no relationship to the land.
Mr. So explained that there will be berming above and around the structure.
Commissioner Bihan suggested thinking more about the proportion and form of the berm.
Ms. Labonte commented that because of the EIR, it may not be possible to look at berming in other locations.
Commissioner Smith requested that the project come back for Phase 1 and 2 during their next review.
Roselle Crossover Improvements Project – Phase 3
Fara G. Perez, Architectural Associate, DPW BOA, explained that at the previous review, the Committee had requested changes to the materials and the paving for the project. At the last meeting the comment was made that the building was too yellow. The project now has a more subdued color and stucco with a precast stone trim. Permeable paving was considered but traditional paving was determined best for the site.
Commissioner Bihan asked if the slope of the paving directs the runoff to a point.
Ms. Perez responded that the runoff will be directed to the center of the site.
Commissioner Smith opened the floor to public comment.
Commissioner Smith closed the floor to public comment.
Motion to approve Phase 3 of the Roselle Crossover Improvements Project: Commissioner Smith
Vote: Unanimously approved.
San Antonio Pump Station Upgrade Project – Phase 2
Mitchell Joe, Architect DPW BOA, explained there have been few changes to the building since Phase 1 approval. He explained that they have introduced two new textures to the shotcrete. The openings and penetrations have been brought out to the new surfaces and the louvers will remain at existing locations. The brick portion of the building will be unchanged. Mr. Joe presented an overview of the site including generators, tank and black vinyl enclosing fence. Mr. Joe introduced Bill Bulkley, Landscape Architect DPW BOE.
Mr. Bulkley explained that the landscape plan includes maintenance and will provide pruning the existing trees and removing brush. They will work with the existing mature landscaping and add river cobble, gravel, and bark mulch as ground covers. The property will drain storm water runoff into the swell along the road.
Commissioner Bihan commented that gravel would be better than bark mulch.
Commissioner Smith asked about the building’s visibility.
Mr. Joe responded that there is only one road going past the structure.
Commissioner Delaney commented favorably on the reduced landscaping along the road.
Commissioner Smith commented that he would like the louvers and vents to be integrated into the patterning.
Motion to approve Phase 2 with the contingency to present alternatives to the current patterning on the shotcrete: Commissioner Bihan
Vote: Unanimously approved.
South of Market Alleyways Project – Phase 1
Mike Grisso, Project Manager, San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, introduced the project and introduced John Thomas, Landscape Architect, DPW BOE.
Mr. Thomas explained that he has been working with staff from various City agencies to develop this plan. He hopes this initial set of alleyways will serve as a prototype for future alley improvements. He said that the goals of the project are to create a pedestrian realm and foster a sense of connection with the residents. Communication with the residents is essential because once the project area is developed, it will be turned over to the property owners for maintenance. There are two phases for the alleyways, with a total budget of $2 million. They hope to begin construction in September 2009. Although the funds are limited, Mr. Thomas is confident it can be done within the given budget.
Mr. Thomas explained that the process involved two community workshops and a charrette with AIA. The project hopes to promote an area for pedestrians and bikes, reduce vehicle speed, promote safety and cleanliness, enhance roadway surface and do this at a minimal cost. Within these changes there is the desire to create outdoor living rooms for the community. The elements of the plan to accomplish these goals are raised crosswalks at entries, chicanes, speed tables, improved lighting with a shift towards LED, infill planting and widening the planting pit. The paving of the roads will be funded by money outside of the $2 million budget. There will be special treatments at the plaza adjacent to the park which is the heart of the project.
Mr. Grisso explained that they will create a crosswalk to go to the park.
Commissioner Bihan asked if this project was compliant with the Better Streets Plan.
Mr. Thomas replied that yes, they had looked at the Better Streets Plan, but that the Plan did not include a tool kit listing the exact street furnishings to use.
Commissioner Delaney commented that the sidewalks should be wide enough for people to pass by each other. She added that it would be great if the streets were more like European alleys with no sidewalks.
Mr. Grisso replied that ADA and safety restrictions prevent this type of design.
Commissioner Bihan said that this is a very important project for the City, but he is concerned about not having irrigation for the trees.
Mr. Grisso replied that the hope of the project is that once redevelopment is finished, a central business district (“CBD”) will be created for the community.
Commissioner Bihan commented that because it’s so important to do this right, the design team should think about doing fewer things, but doing them properly instead of stretching the budget so thin.
Commissioner Delaney agreed and added that a Plan A and Plan B could help when the project goes out to bid and may need to be value-engineered.
Commissioner Smith commented that the project is ambitious, and if it works in this neighborhood, it could work in almost any area. He added that San Francisco architecture tends to be historicist and he would like to see more modern design and future vision, especially with the light fixtures. He suggested that a design competition could build press interest in the project and produce a more interesting product.
Commissioner Delaney agreed that the streets should look more modern.
Commissioner Smith requested additional examples of lighting.
Mr. Thomas responded that project is going to use LED lighting and there is a limited number of designs that are available from the DPW list of maintainable lighting.
Commissioner Delaney suggested a joint venture with artists to create caps or shades over the lighting.
Commissioner Smith opened the floor to public comment; there was none.
Motion to approve Phase 1 of the South of Market Alleyways Project: Commissioner Smith
Vote: Unanimously approved.
Merced Branch Library – Phase 2 Landscape Review
Paul De Freitas, Project Architect, DPW BOA, explained that the project team had met with Commissioner Delaney to review the landscape plan proposed at this meeting. He introduced Brian Gatter, Landscape Architect, DPW.
Mr. Gatter explained the historic context and planting of the library that originally was facing away from 19th Avenue. The renovation will reveal the corner, and the existing leptospermum tree will remain but be significantly cut back. The plan rearranged the paving and added concrete banding to bring the viewer’s eye to the entrance. Additionally, the storm water will be treated onsite.
Mr. De Freitas said that the existing building signage will be mounted to the top of the retaining wall or could be mounted to the front.
Commissioner Bihan suggested putting the lettering on the front of the wall for visibility and security.
The three Commissioners agreed unanimously that the landscape is greatly improved and removed the contingency on the approval of Phase 2 of the Merced Branch Library, approved by the full Arts Commission in Resolution No. 0105-09-008.
Geneva Historic Car Enclosure
Lisa Chow, Project Manager with SFMTA, introduced Oren Rubin, VBN Architecture, and Mabel Yeung, Lead Architect, VBN Architecture. She explained that none of the project materials have changed, but the roof now reflects the parapet as requested at the Committee’s last meeting. The design team proposed three alternative color schemes with the addition of the Muni logo to the front of the building.
Color scheme A is the same champagne color previously proposed with graphic Muni signage and new accent colors. Color scheme B is a custom color which draws from the historic Muni cars, and color scheme C is a two-tone option with green and yellow.
Ms. Chow commented that the design team would prefer color scheme A.
The Commissioners agreed that scheme A was best.
Commissioner Smith commented that the Muni graphic could be bigger and fill the space. He added that the band should be removed from the design. He said that the inside of the building is great and very interesting.
Motion to approve Phase 2 of the Geneva Historic Car Enclosure with the contingency of presenting alternatives to the positioning and size of the Muni logo: Commissioner Smith
Vote: Unanimously approved
There was no new business.
Adjournment: 5:45 p.m.