San Francisco on Steroid

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When I was living in San Fran, I could really feel I was living in a city of hills and valleys. I was quite amazed that people decided to build a city on these hills. The longer I thought about that, I started to realise that I grew up in the North District in Hong Kong which is an area of hills too. But somehow I never really noticed the hills, why is that?

Well, in San Fran, I actually “see” the hills every day, but in Hong Kong, the hills are blocked by the super tall buildings. These buildings form layers of walls and totally block the view to the hills. You can totally understand that what I mean from the photo above taken from my window. I live on the 18th floor already and still I don’t see much of the hills! I guess there should be a height limit set for the buildings and the buildings should be placed on a grid so people can have a view when they look in between the buildings.

sheung shui, hong kong – jun 30, 2013

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A Very Creative and Green Urinal Room

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Today I came across the coolest private “pee-only” room I have ever seen. In this little room, this whole system is installed on the back wall. It was shocking to me that the “sink” sits right on top of the “metal urinal”. After you finish your business down in the urinal, when you wash your hands, the water from hand-washing would run directly down to the urinal underneath to “flush” it. Amazing! This is a good design that recycles greywater immediately. I learned something really smart today.

organic tofu desert place and factory at ho sheung heng, sheung shui, hong kong – may 17, 2013

How Would Christopher Wren Have Arranged for Margaret Thatcher’s Funeral?

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photo from http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2013/04/17/world/europe/20130418-THATCHER-7.html

In 1666, the old St Paul’s cathedral in London was severely damaged by the Great Fire. The king’s chief surveyor, Christopher Wren, took this opportunity to build the new St Paul’s which currently stands. Probably inspired by the domes of the Pantheon and the St Peter’s, Wren designed the new cathedral with this mega dome. To present the domed space in its full grandeur, the design of the floor patterns, the altar, the columns and all the niches around the circular space have been specially detailed to work with the dome. The result is that when a person is standing underneath domed space, he can actually feel it, see it and even hear the whisper of the dome.

Looking at this photograph of Margaret Thatcher’s Funeral at the St Paul’s taken underneath the dome, I started to wonder how would Wren have arranged the chairs for this very important ceremony. I am not a hundred percent sure, but my guess is he would have wanted the coffin be placed right underneath the center of the dome which is also the center of the circular floor pattern (the sun). The lines of chairs would have been arranged in a radial pattern, like ripples from the sun. In a way, paying tribute to Margaret Thatcher at her funeral was indirectly paying respect to the old British Empire. The dome has portrayed this empire once the center of the world and on which the sun never sets. Now that I have thought about the meaning of the dome’s center, it got me to think that this strategic and ceremonial spot may probably be reserved for someone even more important than a prime minister. The locations of everything is suddenly justified.

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photo from http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2013/04/17/world/europe/20130418-THATCHER-10.html

st paul’s cathedral, london – apr 17, 2013

Buchanan and Eddy – The “Most Dangerous” Neighborhood in San Francisco

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This one day on my way to see the Saint Mary’s Cathedral, I walked into this supposingly low-income housing project at Buahanan and Eddy streets. The streets were clean and it was a sunny day. The “architecture” there was a little dry, solely residential, un-san francisco, but it seemed okay. However I was overwhelmed by the tons of surveillance cameras and warning signs in the neighborhood. It was as if something really bad had happened many times there before. There are many things I can write about these housing projects. But what I found very interesting was that signages and installations alone can psychologically affect how people feel about a space.

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corner of buchanan st. and eddy street, san francisco

Ruins of Luk Keng Village

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Very interesting to know that villagers are eager to pull down the ruins of their hundred-year-old homes to put up completely new three-story concrete villas. Some of the villagers had let the old houses decay on purpose years ago when they left, believing that the villages and/or their descendants would one day come back and rebuild them. Their plan works.

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luk kent village, fanling, hong kong – 4:05pm, mar 29, 2013

Sunset at Ocean Beach in San Fran – A City Defined by Its Stunning Outdoor Spaces

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view to pacific ocean

Before the first time I moved to San Francisco, my friend told me: “Kam, things especially housing are very expensive there. But the weather is really nice and you get to do a lot of free outdoor stuff there. They have great outdoor space in San Fran.” Well, the old me paid way much more attention to buildings than outdoor space. To me, cities were defined by their buildings in the downtown – NYC and Empire State Building; Chicago and Sears Tower; Seattle and Space Needle. And of course, San Francisco was defined by the downtown’s skyline featuring the Transamerica Pyramid.

The more time I spend in SF, the more I feel that the city is all about its open spaces – the hills, the parks and the oceans. Downtown does not really pay a big part in the locals’ life at all. In everyday conservation, people like to tell you what they have done in the parks over the weekends and what nice walk or hike they have taken. I slowly have become one of them too. Taking the dog to the Buena Vista Park which is indeed a hill and chilling out at Dolores Park have become a daily ritual to me. In the city of seven hills, it is amazing how many different vistas you get from up and down the hills.

Indeed every city has outdoor space, but not many of them are able to preserve the rustic quality of these spaces. Take Ocean Beach as an example, there is no McDonald’s, giant parking lots, tourists’ center, surf shops, hotels or any other commercial components. A beach is pretty much what you get there. The natural beauty of the beach simply touches your heart and makes you come back for more. That is what makes most San Francisco’s outdoor spaces so successful

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view to land’s end, with people watching sunset

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view to pacific ocean, with people chilling out

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surfer

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heineken

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final sunset

ocean beach, san francisco – 5:35pm, jan 25, 2013

The Mysterious Twin Gymnasiums by Golden Gate Park

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looking west at the two gymnasiums on federick st. with kezar stadium on the right

When you walk down Frederick St. by the Kezar Stadium near the Golden Gate Park, you will see a row of Victorian houses and in between them there are two enormous masonry buildings topped with an arch. These two almost identical art deco-styled buildings that seem so un-related to the current streetscape are indeed the remains of the former San Francisco Polytechnic High School. The narrower one on the east was the Girls’ Gymnasium and the one of the west was the Boys’ Gymnasium. When the city tore down the school to build residential housing, the neighborhood managed to rescue the two gyms which have become the current homes for the Circus Center and the ArcoSports Center.

I really admire the effort put into saving the gyms by the people of San Francisco. Most of time whether these buildings would be saved has nothing to do with the physical context such as the buildings themselves or the design of the new projects. The buildings are only saved when the people who care about them do something about it. And of course, the concerned authority would only have respond to its voters’ want in a democratic society. If it were in mainland China or even in Hong Kong, protests would mean nothing to the government and every bit of the old buildings and infrastructure including streets and landscape would be demolished in no time.

Keeping these old monuments have contributed positively to the diversity of built environment of San Francisco. The grand scale of these monuments, the engravings on buildings and the lavish ornaments simply cannot be done in the modern day budget-oriented buildings. These artifacts of the past really make the city more charming, rich in history and memory. And they give you something to discover during each walk or ride. Isn’t that what we like about taking walks in San Francisco?

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looking eastat the two gymnasiums with buena vista park at the end of federick st.

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new housing development in between the two gymnasiums

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current look of the west gymnasium (home of the circus center)

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circus center trains student to perform circus arts

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the lavishly ornate entrance to the circus center

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the large practice hall inside the circus center

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classes and events at the circuit center

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wall painting at the circus center

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the relationship of the two gymnasiums to the kezar stadium, too bad the trees have over grownn to block the view of the west gymnasium

federick st. by kezar stadium, san francisco – 11:30am, feb 5, 2013