September 1 marked the opening day of the month-long Architecture and the City festival, a vast array of tours, screenings, lectures, workshops, and exhibitions focused on the physical shape of San Francisco. In its ninth year, the festival is sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, San Francisco and the Center for Architecture + Design, but the programming involves everyone from the Exploratorium to Pier 24. The festival addresses a variety of specifics such as green design and shrinking public spaces, but all events seek to highlight what we regularly take for granted as city-dwellers: how our surroundings affect and facilitate daily life. Since the festival is jam-packed, I've selected a few choice options to make the decision process a bit easier for you.
Architecture and the City has its fair share of cocktail parties and tours through swanky modernist homes, but the most interesting events examine the city from less expected vantage points. Christopher Downey's walking tour through SOMA demonstrates the tactics the blind use to navigate a city. Since losing his sight in 2008, Downey continues to work as an architect, consulting on and designing projects to better accommodate a sightless experience of space. Downey posits, "Great architecture for the blind and visually impaired is just like any other great architecture, only better." For this tour, Downey will describe "acoustic wayfinding" through city streets and buildings, and put participants to the test: can you think up new ways to add audible markers to a particular building?
Acoustic Wayfinding for the Blind
September 20, 2011, 6-8 pm, $50
Tour start point: Arup, 560 Mission Street, 7th Floor, San Francisco
With your senses primed, take advantage of the two-hour boat tour, (Re)discover the New Bay Bridge and breathe in some salty air. Led by architects and Bart Ney of San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Seismic Safety Projects, the tour promises to focus on the design process, but I highly doubt, once out on the water, that you'll be paying attention to much more than the rare pleasure of seeing the Bay Bridge from below.
(Re)discover the New Bay Bridge
September 27, 3-5 pm, $75
1 Ferry Building, San Francisco
Reclaim Market Street!, an exhibition created by the Studio for Urban Projects, draws on a rich and varied history of interventions -- both sanctioned and renegade -- made into public spaces around the world. The text-heavy exhibition seeks to create a public dialogue leading up to the 2015 scheduled repaving of Market Street. Examples are grouped into three arenas: the street, the sidewalk, and the plaza. Though it requires stamina to read all the way through, Reclaim Market Street! is worth the effort. It shows that "temporary urban experiments in creating new public spaces" can be radical, playful, and incredibly successful. Paris Plages, for instance, turns roads along the Seine into sandy beaches for four weeks each summer. Forget the romance and the lights, visit Paris for the deckchairs, volleyball nets, and mini-pools.
Reclaim Market Street!
September 6-30, 2011, Free
SPUR, 654 Mission Street, San Francisco
On September 14, AIASF will screen Malls R Us, a documentary by Helene Klodawsky and an investigation into North America's (and the globe's) religious-like obsession with the indoor shopping mall. The film includes an interview with Ray Bradbury, a soundtrack by the ethereal French band AIR, and footage of a million-square-foot project in Dubai. While all this points to the otherworldly, be reminded that Target is set to open in the Metreon in October 2012, along with 20 new restaurants and an expanded dining terrace. Malls R Us could be closer to home than you think.
Malls R Us
September 14, 5:30 pm
San Francisco Main Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco
Admission is free, but registration is required. Register at aiasf.org/archandcity/films.
My final suggestion dwells neither on the current urban landscape nor proposals for San Francisco's future, but it's just too appealing to pass up. A tour of the Marine Mammal Center promises participants an insider's walk through the veterinary hospital's unique operations -- it is the only institution of its kind in its entire 600-mile rescue range. Situated in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the center moved into a new facility in 2009, where solar panels shade pools and scientists and volunteers work diligently to rehabilitate, study, and educate the public about marine mammals. Now is the season for sea lions, though the center's "current patients" do include one exceptionally adorable Pacific harbor seal named Jude.
Behind the Scenes at the Marine Mammal Center
September 24, 2-4 pm, $30
2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito
The month of September, thanks to Architecture and the City, is packed with opportunities to learn more about San Francisco, and how its physical shape has affected the lives within it over the years. The festival is more than a staid architecture history lesson, however, and the most exciting events -- like those listed above -- feature half-finished projects, fantastic plans, and the dynamic proposals that will shape and inspire this city's future.
Architecture and the City continues through September 30, 2011. For more information, visit aiasf.org/archandcity.