325 Fremont: Design

We might be a little slow this morning afternoon, but luckily the plugged-in readers aren’t.

As a reader noted, the Baum Thornley Architects design for 325 Fremont (a.k.a. Lots 12, 13 & 14) calls for a 20-floor/200-foot high tower with seventy (70) residential units (mostly two-bedrooms) and parking. What we still don’t know is if (or how) the design has changed. Once again, tipsters?

And yes, that little tower with a flag on top is now One Rincon Hill (but let’s focus on 325).

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by ilikemtall

    Hey all you ORH bashers, recoginize the slender tower in the background? And for the old timers, who remembers what it advertised before being rebranded by BofA in the 90s? Was is Philips 66?

  2. Posted by infinity buyer

    Nice design. Now the big question is will it ever get built?
    Unfortunately, those corner balconies will get their bay views partially blocked by the Infinity and Gap buildings.

  3. Posted by Spencer

    much nicer design than squatty infinity

  4. Posted by sf

    I absolutely despise this design. It looks like the crap they were trying to give us with 301 Mission until an architect with style came in. >:-p

  5. Posted by Bill

    Union 76

  6. Posted by Sb

    What’s your beef with it sf? It looks OK to me. I don’t love it, but at least it’s interesting to look at. And it integrates a lot of balconies without looking all Projects. And it doesn’t scream Sharper Image. 🙂
    If they could just do something about the imposing blank face and the sticky-out afterthought balconies on the right, I think I’d really like this design.

  7. Posted by BT

    So is the midrise 333 Fremont still in there somewhere as shown here:

  8. Posted by sf


  9. Posted by rincondweller

    This appears to be the skyscraper version of a ranch home.

  10. Posted by Invented

    Take the California- Hilton Garden Inn-like panache off the top, and it’s the Soma ‘Grand’.
    Why reinvent when you can re-use?
    We’ve seen uglier, and well, it’s hard to hold to high standards in this area. Unfortunately.

  11. Posted by mission

    I think you are right BT. If I remember correctly the tower pictured above was canceled long ago and the building and surrounding lot were up for sale. 333 Fremont makes more sense considering it is only a “70 unit building”. I am not hating the design of 333…it is solid infill.

  12. Posted by city resident

    325 fremont is a cartoon stuck on top of a bland box.
    333 fremont, the approved 8-story building next door, is a very attractive and well-designed building.
    seems the bigger the building, the blander and crappier they get.
    that goes the same for that horrendously bland glass Millenium box. it’s not just bland, it’s tacky.

  13. Posted by rg

    I don’t like this design either. But, I have some insight into this building (which may also explain something I suspect about many new buildings in SF):
    Baum Thornley is a terrific architecture firm with many great designed projects. THIS project was designed somewhere around 1999. A good friend of mine worked for them around that time and was involved with it. For 1999, this was a cutting-edge style.
    An architect friend of mine recently visited from NYC and had one critique of all these new towers – that they look like they were designed in the 90s(and the Inter-Continental in the 80s!). That’s the result of bad developers, awful city government, an incompetent Planning Dept. and CEQA.

  14. Posted by Brian

    Oh come on, rg. CEQA can be blamed for many things, but boring design?
    The Planning Department can only do so much when developers present boring projects. Unless you want city planners to somehow be creative architects? You want us to dictate aesthetic issues, to be “cutting edge”? How?
    It’s not even really the fault of neighbors in this neighborhood.
    Bad design comes from unimaginative corporations who are able to market bland design and sell the units. Bad design comes from the reality of the current economic system, which requires megablock structures all built at one time by one developer.
    The only place I would agree with you is the reality that the City does impose expensive requirements like inclusionary housing (affordable units). Is your solution 100% upscale market rate units that nobody can afford except commuting SIlicon Valley executives?

  15. Posted by rg

    Brian – I didn’t say CEQA can be blamed for “boring” design, I said it is partly to blame for the fact that these projects were designed 10 years ago and are only NOW going up, resulting in new buildings that already look dated. In fact, I think it is a LARGE part to blame, but, this city has created plenty of their own lengthy and unnecessary processes as well. We like to just TALK and not DO if you hadn’t noticed. I think that the Market/Octavia Plan and the whole boulevard is a prime example of what this city is good at – decades of talking and hearings and then still CRAP when something does get built. This particular building wasn’t really my taste back when it was on my friend’s desk either – too whimsical for my classic modernism aesthetic – but I still remember thinking it was far cooler than the stuff that MY workplace was doing.
    SO, I notice you used “us” when describing our city’s planners. I’m glad to learn that you guys read SocketSite. Here is what you (and the city) can do: It can hire the best and the brightest Urban Planners and Architects that it can recruit. It can build a department staff so incredibly talented and “cutting-edge” that they will start doing a GOOD job at planning this city’s present and future. A department that doesn’t visit OTHER cities to get ideas and then comes back here and plunks that idea down into ANY 4 block stretch it can find! They should have a reasonable level of design oversight/review over large scale building projects, esp. in the downtown area and along prominent corridors.
    However, they should first LEAD the way to quality design by hiring outstanding architects to design public projects. New York City instituted a department a few years ago to do just that. It began with a shortlist of architecture firms that it “pre-qualified” to design public facilities (schools, libraries, etc.) These firms were ones that had a proven track record of doing outstanding work (mostly big names that we’d all recognize). Other firms who want to be hired for this sort of work have to “apply” and PROVE that their ability is worthy. Plain and simple, if you do great work – innovative, beautiful, well-planned work – you can work on these projects. Now, NYC not only has a roster of firms they WANT to use and know that they can trust – quickening the whole process tremendously – BUT, firms want to get projects AND do an unbelievable job. I believe that because of this “admissions/oversight” process, these firms are even given a great deal of freedom to design how THEY want to (Architects actually in control of what they are good at – remarkable!). The result has been the best thoughts from the best architects. Overall, the design expectation is SO high now, each firm is so determined to do their best work. Worrying that if you AREN’T “daring” you might be fired! While we in progressive San Francisco worry that even the blandest design might be too “daring” for our Planning Dept. and result in years of delays while the neighbors argue and the Planning Commission twiddles it’s thumbs.
    In my opinion, if we had a Planning Department who were so talented and known as being the “cream of the crop”, SF residents might TRUST them and not feel that they need to have a say in everything that goes on. Residents might actually RESPECT the department and the quality work it puts out. Lastly, if our department was that talented, maybe, just maybe, they would have the BALLS to design/plan things ON THEIR OWN and then take OWNERSHIP of those designs instead of listening to every unqualified neighbor who shows up and then wasting more time and money running to the BOS and to the Commissioners to give “informational presentations” on what they are doing every minute. Presentations that no one’s voting on (or listening to!). Presentations made to people with no education, experience or probably even INTEREST in urban planning and design!
    You’re absolutely correct that boring designs are coming from boring developers who can market and SELL crap like One Rincon. But you are absolutely wrong if you think that the current economic situation “requires megablock structures all built at one time by one developer.” It’s zoning – eh, that’s under Planning, isn’t it? – that has allowed this. I’m the most urban, tall-towers, big-buildings, high-density person I know, BUT, when SFers talk about not wanting a dense city like NYC, even I can understand that what they mean and would be happy to see. When it is argued that SF should maintain that single-story residential character. What could be unique about SF, what could continue to grow SF (it is a CITY after all) while maintaining that purely SF “feel” could be accomplished in planning that didn’t allow those megablock structures! Oops, guess THAT opportunity was missed with the erection of One Rincon Hill! Hey, any of you new ORH owners who are always posting on here mind if we implode your tower? Maintaining smaller parcels while allowing/promoting taller, individual buildings would accomplish SO much. Most important, though, would be increasing height limits (why does a CITY have “height limits” anyway?) along Geary, Van Ness and Lombard, thereby creating prominent streets with commercial sidewalk activity AND the residents above to actually use it. And, of course, underground Muni needs to run out Geary and along Van Ness. The fact that it doesn’t exist – for purely urban planning’s sake (I’ve never lived where either would help me personally) – is just sad. Build it and they will come… (the business, population and tourism to make SF thrive, that is)
    Okay, far too much typing AND I gave away too many brilliant ideas. Tell Rahaim he can send my paycheck to SocketSite and they will forward it on.

  16. Posted by sf

    Knowing this beast will be pretty much blockaded by 375 Fremont and the other Transbay parcels, I feel much better.

  17. Posted by city resident

    rg –
    your screed against the SF Planning Dept is so far off, undeserved, and demonstrated a fairly naive view of the development process that it’s shocking. our Planning Dept is, for the most part, the cream of the crop, and it is engaged in work that is light years ahead of pretty much any other planning dept in the country. the quality of architecture in this city has almost nothing to do with the quality, education and progressiveness of the staff of the Planning Dept. The Plannig Dept does not design buildings! Period. They regulate — they say yes and no and set the rules by which yes and no are evaluated. That’s all they do — regulate. Regulation cannot dictate good, “cutting edge” architecture. Yes, the Planning Dept does not have the necessary culture for saying “no, that proposed design sucks, come back when you hire a real architect.” But short of that, there’s not much you can do when a developer trots along his corporate architect (who, by the way, has been designing and getting buildings approved in this city for 20 years) and presents their crappy design for approval. You can’t make an architect something better than he or she is, and you need to be really willing to step on some major toes to tell someone to hire a new architect or hem-and-haw long enough for them to get the point. But that’s not just the Planning Dept — that’s the culture of the City, and it starts at a higher level the Planning Dept. And I’m sorry to say, meeting the fickle standards of design for all the arm-chair critics in this City is not the highest priority for deciding whether to approve a project that may be providing many other benefits to the city in terms of housing, space for jobs, payments for open space and transit, etc. I wish it was, but it ain’t. A proposal has to be blindingly bad for that to happen. And you know what — there is not a universal scale by which to measure design, regardless of what you think about the “absolute truth” of your own opinions. Cities get a few good buildings, and a lot of mediocre ones. NYC, Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles, wherever. You only see the few stellar ones in Architectural Record, Dwell, or the other architectural press. For every stellar one that makes the press in every city, there are 1,000 others that everyone would agree is bland junk.
    What the Planning Dept needs to do in its job as regulators is make sure the basic principles of urban design are met — that building are properly proportioned, that they meet the ground in a pedestrian-friendly fashion, that their bulk, massing, open space, uses, parking, etc. contribute the ground-level public realm in a positive way, that there is a consistent and deliberate attention to the skyline, etc. No one here, i’ll bet you included, were opposed to the notion of the Rincon Hill plan, or the heights and controls that were part of it. If those buildings were just silhouettes, you wouldn’t have a problem. It’s the architectural style and materials you don’t like of the actual building, which is a very fair criticism, but in the end it’s a superficial concern that is not at the heart of good urban design and concern for the public’s interest. Architectural tastes come and go.
    You haven’t even mentioned the Planning Commission, the cirucs of amateurs appointed by the Mayor and Board, which actually has the authority to approve projects or turn up their noses at them. When was the last time the Planning Commission told a project sponsor to go back to the drawing board and hire a new architect? It’s never happened!

  18. Posted by Brian

    city resident: I agree with your excellent response! Particularly w/r/t any concept that there is a single “right way” to design anything. The truth is most new construction is bland.
    There are worse places: Heck, if I lived in Vancouver, I would probably be bored with green glass right now. Vancouver does get the neighborhood infrastructure right, though…at least better than we do.
    Seattle? The overall quality of new architecture in the City Core comes nowhere near what SF gets.
    (I would note that I am defending the profession in general. I am not a planner for the City of San Francisco. You should see what SUBURBAN planners have to deal with :))

  19. Posted by Spencer

    i hate the intercontinental and the infinity towers. This building is 20x better than either of those.

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