A Library as an Individual Building – Instead of being “Stir-fried” into a Complex

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Every time I walk by a library in San Francisco, I can’t help but stop and look at them for a long second. Perhaps I was admiring some of the classical facades, coffered huge ceiling and other design features. But the more I think about it, I realize I am actually fascinated by the fact the each library is an individual “library building” sitting on the street.

As a person growing up in Hong Kong, it is not common seeing a single “library building”. Most libraries are put inside a city hall complex or some of the so-called municipal buildings. These complexes also house offices for city workers, a wet market for fresh food, a dry goods market and a food court. The library is usually placed on the top floor of the building. I always have to take the elevator to get to it. As a result, I was not used to seeing a library building on the street and of course most Hong Kong people don’t have an idea of how a library building looks like.

Personally, I prefer having libraries as individual buildings. It is very strange that you need to go through a wet market and food court to get a “house of knowledge”. That is why I used associate libraries with the smell of dried seafood. The Confucius has this old saying that “halls for study should be placed as far away from the kitchens and slaughter houses where killing of animals take place”. I totally agree with that.

As a strong advocate for great and inspiring civic works, I believe that these nicely done libraries in San Francisco beautify and define each neighborhood. They create dignified and memorable places both inside and outside the libraries for every neighbor. It is a simpler world when you don’t stir-fry buildings together.

1833 page st., san francisco – 3:25pm, jan 10, 2013

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Castro Theatre – Where the Big Show is Always Happening on the Outside

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Any person who has seen the Castro neighborhood knows about the Castro Theatre. It is probably not because they have been to a show or a movie inside. But they have seen what happened on the outside – the numerous civil right protests, gay parades, street fairs, celebrations and memorials. The façade of the Castro Theatre building has always been a backdrop for the important events and dramas happening in Castro. In a way, it is like the city hall of Castro. Things just seem to matter more if they are photographed happening in front of the theatre. And of course, the theatre was featured in the movie Milk many times. I wonder if the architect Timothy Pflueger had foreseen the significance of the theatre when he was drawing the magical art deco façade.

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celebration for obama’s winning in re-election – nov 6, 2012

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castro street fair – oct 7, 2012

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castro street on a regular day

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castro street on a regular night

429 castro street, san francisco

Burger Meister’s “Palm Tree-ed” Overhang in Cole Valley

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There are many outdoor dining areas that have incorporated great landscape design in Cole Valley. However it was my first time seeing one that has punched holes in their overhang for decorating trees to go through. I am not sure how the dining area is actually benefited from the palm trees since you can’t really feel the presence of the trees’ canopy when you are sitting under the overhang. But having the pair of almost identical palm trees in the front definitely makes Burger Meister look like a fun place to eat.

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86 carl st., san francisco – 2:11pm, feb 1, 2013

Big Building Swallowing Small Building in One Piece

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I have seen many new buildings that have kind of incorporated existing buildings into their designs. But they usually just keep parts of an existing building for example a dome, a façade, a ceiling or a lobby. Or they may keep the physical structure of the old building but totally gut out the existing social life.

There is rarely a case that a complete old building is being preserved in a new building like the one in the photo. I guess the social life or the use of the shop could have changed too but in no way it was forced to give up its own separate identity, or forced to socially and economically integrate with the skyscraper. No comment here for other design aspects of this semi-postmodernist skyscraper. However the effort to keep the original shop has really made the building project more interesting.

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619 market st., san Francisco – 12:18pm, jan 26, 2013

Caselli Mansion in Castro – A Different Kind of Apartment Building

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Built in 1892, the legendary Caselli Mansion was the Mac-Mansion of its time. Its enormous size and height simply dwarfed all the buildings on the nearby blocks. Attracted by this architectural wonder, I decided to check out the mansion today.

Caselli Mansion sits at the corner on the bottom of a sloped hill. To approach it, you have to first walk up the steps at the corner to the base of the building foundation. And then a flight of step would bring you up to the colonnaded porch which offers an amazing vista of the downtown. Inside the entrance lobby, there is grand staircase that takes you to the first upper floor. To go up to the attic or the lower level, you have to take the servant staircase in the back. Although the original open space on the main floors have been partitioned and divided into different apartments, the former glory of the mansion can still be felt in the detailing and craftsmanship of the wood panels, door moulding, ceiling plaster work and giant double hung windows.

On the outside, Caselli Mansion has a fairly symmetrical façade with a pair of turreted towers and tall chimneys. The attic is formed by a steep hip roof topped by a decorative tower in the center and a projecting pitched roof in the front. A third larger round tower in the back soars further into the sky than the two towers in the front.

Because of the building complexity, a variety of spaces were created when Caselli Mansion was divided into apartments. Some rooms have a flat ceiling and a rectangular layout; some rooms in the tower would have a circular floor plan; rooms on top of the tower have a coned ceiling and almost 270 degree view of the city; rooms on the upper attic have their own private staircases leading up from the top floor; I was told by a resident that a couple room in the tower even their own mezzanine. I find it very intriguing that how different types of spatial experience were created when they retrofitted the mansion into an apartment building. This collection of interesting and weird spaces would not be made possible if the mansion was planned as an apartment building from the beginning.

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around 1892, photo copyright of http://foundsf.org

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entry steps leading to the platform of the mansion

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steps leading to the colonnaded porch

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view of the colonnaded porch from below

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view from the colonnaded porch, including the top of the transamerica pyramid

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detail of the front door on porch

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detail at doorway corner

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detail of balustrade and post

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detail od mouldings

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grand staircase

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wood panel at grand staircase

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tiled painting of the original mansion

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hallway at third floor (above main and second floors)

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hallway at lower floor

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caselli mansion was at one time the california general hospital

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view of mansion from across caselli st.

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view from afar on caselli st.

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the enormous size of caselli mansion can be seen from up the hill, click to zoom in!

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zooming into the previous photo

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another view of the mansion from afar

250 douglass st., san francisco – 2:09pm, jan 30, 2013

A Poor Example in Solving the Problematic Driveway Space in Front of a Victorian House’s Garage

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two benches and a funky street sign, two pots of plants

A typical San Francisco Victorian House has a garage underneath the main building on the ground or below-ground level with a driveway leading to the garage and a flight of stairs going up from the front sidewalk to the main entrance foyer. As San Francisco is becoming more urbanized, this leftover driveway space has become more problematic especially in areas close to commercial streets. A lot of time when the car is gone, this empty privately-owned space is occupied by the passer-bys and the urban nomads, namely the homeless and the full-time street dwellers. The businesses conducted by these third-parties constantly create nuisance to the upstairs and the downstairs, even though many garages have been converted into shops and eateries already. I am very interested in how people attempt to solve this spatial problem and I would like to share what I just observed a few days ago.

These four slightly setback Victorian houses in the middle on this short block of lower Fillmore St. all have their garages converted into shops. The negative space in front of these garages presents a unique opportunity for a small shared plaza for these shops or something special. But somehow nothing creative or special is done to make the most of out of that empty space. I wish they have done more than just simply putting furniture or plant to fill up the space. For example, they can re-pave the area with bricks or different pavement that define the place better; or they can put up a large awning or canopy above that space to make it a more appealing outdoor dining spot; or the four stores can put up some similar street furniture and signage to make this space identifiable; or they can put up a simple landscape scheme that make the place a little urban oasis.

The randomly placed benches, tables, rocks and overgrown plants may be nice and practical, but they definitely do nothing to make this space unique and memorable.

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a table with four chairs, two piegons

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five rocks and a pot of plant

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a lot of plant

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overall streetscape

east side of lower fillmore st. between sutter and post, san francisco – 2:00pm, jan 27, 2013

The Stunning Garages of Mrs. Doubtfire’s Neighbors

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Two nights ago, me and my buddy Steven watched Mrs Doubtfire, a 1993 classic movie set in San Francisco featuring Robin Williams and Sally Field, again on the television. We were so fascinated by the neighborhood Mrs. Doubtfire was filmed that we decided to check it out today. On our walk down towards Mrs Doubtfire’s house from Fillmore to Steiner, I was overwhelmed by all the stately homes lining the two sides of Broadway.

But what astonished me even more were the highly ornate garages of Mrs Doubtfire’s adjacent neighbors. The woodwork, brickwork, landscape and metal railing are just superb! I decided to take some photos and share with everyone.

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mrs. doubtfire’s house at corner of broadway and Steiner

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steiner st. with the church tower in the background, frequently seen in the movie

south side broadway st. between fillmore and steiner, san francisco – 1:23pm, jan 27, 2013