Thursday, December 9, 2010

Even. San Francisco Federal Building

The new San Francisco Federal Building is one of the most
exciting structures that has been built in San Francisco in
recent years. A dramatic and futuristic image conceals an
enormous complexity of sustainable design principles that
give form, up to the last detail, to this remarkable building.

The building occupies a large lot at the intersection of
Seventh and Mission Streets and is well set back in order
to allow the development of a large open public plaza.
Three structures define the boundaries of this new public
space: a slender 18-story tower running NE-SW, a
perpendicular 4-story annex that is linked to the local
existing neighborhood scale, and finally a free standing
cafeteria pavilion that is located close to the corner of both
streets. Besides the cafeteria, a number of public facilities
are housed within the tower building’s lower level including
a conference center, a fitness center, and a day care center
open to local residents as well as employees.

With this oasis-like great public space in a neighborhood
scale and the dramatic image of the big tower in a urban
scale that is very visible from the freeway that connect
with the Bay Bridge, the project has became a new urban
landmark. Together with this accomplished design
objective, much more has been written about the other
two primary project strategies: sustainable building design
strong principles and a new definition of the culture of the
workplace. The building design and orientation allow
maximum natural airflow for cooling and ventilation and
include natural daylight for the big majority of the office
interiors, maximizing energy efficiency.
A smart decision in this context is the fact that the building
is fully air conditioned in the five lower levels where the
highest concentration of people and equipment are located.
Above these levels a sophisticated window system
technology, part of the BAS or Building Automated System,
allows the building to breathe by opening and closing
windows automatically so natural fresh air can be let in.
Consistently with this automated technology other design
decisions as sunscreen were developed as part of the SE
elevation material or translucent sunshades into the NW
fa├žade that break the negative impact of low sun radiation.

As far as the redefinition of the culture of
the workplace some strategies used are
the following:
-New horizontal and vertical circulation
paths give employees opportunities for
chance meetings; -A radically different
layout of the typical office space
arrangement with open work areas at
the building perimeter and private office
and conference spaces at central cores
producing more “democratic” working
-Skip stop elevators that stop every
third floor and along with the opening
to spacious three-story high lobbies
promote exercise through use of central
-The sky garden located at 11th, 12th
and 13th floors with spectacular views
-Monumental scale lobby at street
level provides a great setting for
informal meetings and social interaction.
Much of the research done for this
building was further developed by
Morphosis in their Caltran District 7
Headquarters in Los Angeles.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Odd. A building in love

"In love, somehow, a man's heart is always either exceeding
the speed limit, or getting parked in the wrong place"
Helen Rowland

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


If you want to be up-to-date about the
best architecture, design and interiors
projects from around the world, this is
a great site:

Even. Alvaro Siza. Santa Maria Church Marco de Canavezes, Portugal

Picture by Duccio Malagamba.

"The Santa Maria church's layout interacts with
the light that baths the curved forms of the apse
and the overall space of the church. The natural
lighting varies over time depending on the position
of the sun, from the projection of a single shaft of
light to the silence of dispersal" Alvaro Siza

"One of Siza's masterpieces is undeniably the church in
Marco de Canavezes, a space where he assigns a sacred
dimension, as it were, to the light". Marc Dubois

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Odd. Kalmanovitz Hall renovation

USF's Kalmanovitz Hall, once named
Campion Hall, underwent extensive renovation
in the summer of 2008. As a result
Kalmanovitz Hall and adjoining Cowell Hall are
now connected.

The new connection between both existing
structures is formed by a "high-tech" narrow
metal and glass strip that works as new
entrance to the Kalmanovitz Hall. If we
approach to the building from the Harney
Science Center located across campus, the
connection appears to be a new, elegant, and
appropriate solution that links two differently
styled buildings through a rather incorporeal
and light structure. When it is dark outside,
and the lights are on, the effect of a luminous
transition between the two structures is quite

But advancing closer brings the bitter realization
that all the previously observed elegance and
self control suddenly vanish. The building leans
forward awkwardly in an completely unnecessary
(and expensive to build) juggling gesture. Instead
of connecting its neighbors, it now competes with
them in a completely superfluous exercise to
maintain equilibrium. Conflict is created where
there was calm.

When asked about the difficulty of composing, the
great German composer Johannes Brahms
responded that for him composing was not at all
hard compared to the fabulous difficulty of leaving
superfluous notes under the table.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Even, Cathedral of Christ the Light. Oakland

The new Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland
(California) is a building with many virtues but also
with faults--lacking the necessary merits to be
considered a masterpiece.

It is remarkable the way natural light is the main
feature all throughout this building. Here light not
only illuminates the interior, but more importantly
creates a moving and rich spatial experience that
continuously changes with the exterior weather
changes. Light is used in this sacred space as a
metaphor of divine creative energy, and consequently,
as a way to express God's presence.

Geometry is another important element in this
building. The main nave has a pointed oval shape in
plan. This shape is the most basic and important
construction in sacred geometry
, often referred as
vesica pisces in Latin. In the Christian tradition,
vesica pisces
is a reference to Christ, because the
form is similar to
the shape of a fish. The word "fish"
translates into Greek as "ichthys", which is an acronym
for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior".
This shape is
to be found not only in the floor plan layout of the
nave and basement mausoleum but also in the
cathedral ceiling and in a truncated version in the
main altar and in the entrance glass window.

When I visited this building I was very pleased with
the striking light effect and the beautiful high level
of crafting in almost every detail, from the glass
panels in the outer surfaces to the exquisite wood
screen or reredos near the altar. One of the effects that
satisfied me the most was the magnificent human
scale achieved inside this building. The main nave is
large enough to receive 1350 people seated, but at the
same time allowing a great sense of intimacy.

My main criticism for this building focuses on its lack
of monumentality. Monumentality in architecture can
be defined as an incorporeal quality inherent in a
structure which conveys the feeling of its eternity.
Cathedrals are structures that have been traditionally
associated with important, big, or lavish buildings.
Although this building is rather small for a cathedral,
I personally don't believe size or relevance are the
problems here. Monumentality of a building is a quality
related to a rather unusual state of perfection, essence,
harmony and serenity altogether, and this is the area
where the Cathedral of Christ the Light is lacking.

For example, there are too many competing direct and
indirect references to religious symbols and catholic
rituals. The repetition of the otherwise evident vesica
detracts from the transcendence and powerfulness
of the metaphor.

Also, the extensive use of interior wood louvers is
questionable. Wood conveys a temporary or provisional
quality, not very appropriate for the assumed "eternity"
of a cathedral. I believe that in this case wood was used
to establish a metaphoric image (another one) of boat or
ark frameworks.

In addition, the large figurative image of Jesus displayed
on the altar is itself very beautiful, but I believe it is
contradictory with the main abstract concept of light as
divine presence. In this regard, I remember churches
such as the Turku Resurrection Chapel where the lateral
and rather mysterious natural light is allowed to flow over
the main altar creating an abstract but powerful dramatic
and effective result. The only presence of a minimalistic
cross sunbathed by that beautiful light creates a memorable
and "eternal" image.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Odd. Maimonides Hospital

The Maimonides Hospital was designed
and built in San Francisco in 1950 by
one of the great architects of classic
Modernism, Erich Mendelsohn. The
Hospital ward faces south and overlooks
an intimate beautiful courtyard protected
from the noisy street by the Administration
front building. Ample terraces with
grateful balconies were the most
characteristic features of this sober and
elegant building.

Regrettably, a new Hospital director,
appointed after the building was already
finished, decided to reduce the size of the terraces
and to make major alterations on the main
ward facade composition without consulting
Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn was
terribly disappointed because he had even
offered his professional services as design
consulting free of charge before the renovation
were done.
Much more recently, in the 1990's a next
door medical building was built. The
architect decided to replicate the grateful
curves of the balconies with a ridiculously
gigantic bow window that occupies several
floor along the side facade. The out-of-scale
new high-tech building reacts with the serene
and harmonic Maimonides Hospital as an
elephant inside a delicate porcelain store
would do. I am convinced the architect of
that new building wanted to establish an
architectural "dialogue" between both structures,
but I truly believe that it is always good to
remember the old German proverb "Speaking
comes by nature, silence by understanding"