Shared spirit in 1 Kearny’s styles from 3 erasSan Francisco Chronicle
November 10, 2009
The newest building on Market Street in San Francisco isn’t really a building at all. It’s a 10-story bookend with a coat of brick-red terra cotta and crisp black metal.
It’s also the third piece of an architectural collage started in 1902 - a triptych that manages to distill a century of design and cultural trends into a single building that covers less than half a block.
The largest piece of what’s now called One Kearny came first, a 12-story burst of French Renaissance ebullience designed by William Curlett. There’s a regal granite base, the emphatic thrust of sandstone and then, at the summit, a steep two-story roof clad in red clay tiles and punctuated by florid dormer windows.
That’s how urbanism worked back then. You arrive on the scene, you put on a show.
To the east, filling the wedge where Geary and Market streets meet, stands the second installment of the saga: a 1964 addition that concealed new circulation systems and bathrooms for its predecessor.
This was the "Mad Men" era, when anything florid was out of favor. In fact, the owners wanted to tear down the original structure and start over until they were dissuaded by Charles Moore.
Within a decade, Moore was acclaimed as a postmodern theorist, a hero to opponents of modernism’s scorched-earth mortality. Then? He was merely an architect in the office of Clark & Beuttler who, bucking every trend of the age, persuaded the owners to save the old building - letting the addition serve as a sculptural version of a service core while creating a Kearny Street entrance.
Where Curlett exulted in ornamentation, Moore emphasized blunt forms. His piece of the puzzle reads as two upward strokes of dense brown brick linked by exposed concrete floors. And yet it’s topped with a mansard roof! Much plainer than Curlett’s, to be sure, but a distinct gesture of respect.
The newest piece of the composition is neither sculptural nor sumptuous.
It’s 10 stories, not 12, with a flat roof that stops where the neighboring mansards begin. Don’t look for earthy heft, either: The new walls seem to hover, weightless and taut, a diagram with vertical bands of terra-cotta intersected by horizontal strokes of black, the spandrels that separate one level of expansive windows from the next.
As light as it looks, this piece is the one that will do the work during a large earthquake. The terra-cotta conceals seismic bracing tied to the 1902 original; also tucked inside are the elevators and bathrooms which, yes, have been relocated once again.
"The new structure and the Charles Moore building together brace Curlett’s building without tearing into it," explains Charles Blozsies, the architect and engineer for the retooled One Kearny.
Blozsies also wanted his new piece to read as just that, a 21st century contribution to the work-in-progress: "This was a missing tooth on the block. We wanted to put a stamp on it that was current, but not too stylistic."
What 2009 shares with 1902 is a spirit, a quiet pride in putting well-crafted materials to use.
Those black aluminum spandrels with their thin lines, for instance, give the facade a sophisticated snap. Along Market Street, they’re accompanied by sunscreens that extend 30 inches beyond the facade, adding visual depth while also deflecting glare away from the offices inside.
I’ve no doubt there are passers-by who wish the new piece was a replica of the old. And indeed, the new section’s machine-like poise seems chilly alongside its 107-year mentor, which still exudes life.
As for Moore’s proud modern flank, its thick shafts haven’t aged nearly as well as Curlett’s atmospheric finesse.
But this was the right step to take, each step of the way: Each piece is serious architecture, shaped by thoughts about how best to fit within the city in lasting ways. Compare One Kearny to its neighbor on the west, an 11-story office building from 1987 designed with no aspiration except to escape notice. Its mock-historic trappings grow more pallid with each passing year, dutiful to a fault.
The three pieces of One Kearny are not a seamless fit, and that’s OK. The clumsy bits are part of what makes the overall composition compelling - like any vibrant city where one layer collides against the next.
See this article in the San Francisco Chronicle