With Mayor Ed Lee having prematurely deemed the design and plans for Apple’s proposed retail store on Union Square as being “quite simply incredible,” San Francisco’s Planning Department is now on the record with their preliminary assessment of Apple’s plans, including concerns about “the proposed building’s energy performance, particularly given San Francisco’s commitments to climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

The challenge of this site is arriving at a design that must serve several objectives equally: first, it must respond to the desired identity of the heart of San Francisco as defined in the Downtown Plan and the Urban Design Element of the City’s General Plan, and the KMMS Conservation District, while also answering to the desired identity of Apple Inc. In other words, it must be an integral part of San Francisco’s historic Union Square district and Apple both at the same time. Second, the design must also respond to San Francisco’s particular environment – its sun, wind, fog and the color of its light. Finally, the building should not be so purpose-built that it will look out of place in the future and not work for potential future tenants.

The Planning Department’s specific concerns with Apple’s proposed plan for the 300 Post Street site and a few suggestions for the project’s facades and integration:

1. Open Space Design. The Planning Department has concerns about the relationship between the proposed plaza design and the adjacent sidewalk. The proposal would reduce public visibility from the street toward the plaza by providing only a narrow stairwell, rather than the current wide cascading stairs. It would also result in a broad blank wall along much of the Stockton Street the sidewalk. Specifically, the Planning Department would like to see the edge of the open space along Stockton Street more integrated with the sidewalk. The Planning Department recommends the following modifications to the plaza so that it feels open and inviting to the public:

a. Maintain as wide of a staircase as possible into the plaza, in order to create a more visible, inviting and usable edge along the sidewalk. Consider eliminating the walls at the sidewalk and extending the stairs the entire width of the plaza to enhance the invitation and quality of the plaza area fronting the street.

b. Reduce the riser height and extend the tread depth of the staircase leading into the plaza.

c. Consider the retention or relocation of the Ruth Asawa fountain as a part of the new reconfigured plaza, perhaps connecting it to, and integrating it with, another water theme within the plaza. If not feasible, the Department would like to work with the Sponsors to find an alternative location for its display within the City.

d. Include identifying signage for the open space, consistent with Planning Code Section 138(i).

2. Historic Preservation. The design as proposed requires modifications to demonstrate compatibility with the KMMS Conservation District. The Department encourages a contemporary design for this project; however, the overall design and detailing should relate to the established patterns, rhythm and architectural character found within the District. Please see the description of the District’s character-defining features and design guidelines summarized in the Planning Code Compliance section of this letter, as well as Appendix E of Planning Code Article 11.

3. Architecture. While it is understood that the large transparent façade along Post Street and a large nontransparent wall along Stockton Street is integral to the design concept, the Planning Department believes that there are ways of achieving the desired design concept while still responding to the fine-grain scale found within the District.

Post Street Façade: The Post Street façade should feature increased modulation and definition, such as strengthening and defining the top and bottom of the building, incorporating vertical elements to break the contiguous plane of the glass wall, and/or adding color, pattern or texture to the glass wall. The Planning Department recommends creating a distinct and identifiable entry and articulating a base to create a usable edge of the building. The lack of articulation and the single-surface glazing wall of approximately 115’ absent a defined pedestrian entry is a departure from the characteristic pattern of the District.

Stockton Street Façade: The Stockton Street façade should include a more active, transparent treatment, as required through Planning Code Section 145.1, and discussed in more detail under the Planning Code Compliance section of this letter. The lack of transparent fenestration and articulation proposed along the Stockton Street façade would create an approximately 80’-0” blank wall along an important commercial street with high pedestrian volumes in the heart of the City’s premier retail district. While the slope and location of structural and programmatic building elements may preclude an ideal solution, possible means of achieving the intent may include a combination of the following: (a) fenestration that increases visibility into the store; (b) display windows; and (c) recessing the building wall from the street to allow for landscape, water and/or seating to generate an active zone, thereby tempering the otherwise minimally embellished Stockton Street façade.

Service Tower: The service tower should create a transition between the massing and detailing of the primary retail frontage and the adjacent historic fabric. Specifically, the service tower should use cladding material and fenestration patterns that are compatible with the surrounding context.

4. Streetscape. The Department recommends incorporating features recommended in the Downtown Streetscape Plan such as street trees and benches into the design, particularly along the Post and Stockton Street frontages.

5. Green Building. Proposed design features for the Post Street façade, particularly the contiguous expansive glazing wall, may result in a significant increase in energy consumption. The Planning Department recommends modifying the design by incorporating passive shading structures or by employing advanced glazing systems to reduce thermal loading and demonstrate a net reduction in energy consumption within the new structure. The San Francisco Department of the Environmental also expressed initial concerns to the Planning Department about the proposed building’s energy performance, particularly given San Francisco’s commitments to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

“The Planning Department will provide further detailed design review on the subsequent submission of materials and details to insure that an acceptable and compatible design is achieved.”
Apple’s Union Square Store Design: Simply Incredible, Indeed [SocketSite]
Apple’s Plan For A Flagship Store On Union Square [SocketSite]

17 thoughts on “Planning’s Assessment Of Apple’s Union Square Plans: Concerns And Considerations”
  1. I think it’s a boring and lazy design and apple being forced to address those concerns is going to make for a more dynamic and interesting building.

  2. Isn’t this a “chain store” too? You have to love the illogical arbitrary nature of prohibiting one business because it is a “chain” with more than 20 stores, and then the next day celebrating another international business with hundreds of retail locations.
    I am happy to see the “Green Building” issue and glazing brought up by planning. Let’s hope Apple does a green landscaped roof similar to their Michigan Avenue store in Chicago.

  3. I agree with the first post, it is a boring design but I feel that San Francisco wants the building to look a lot like the surrounding buildings that are old. Apple is a company of innovation and their building, which will be the closet large scale apple store to their headquarters, should be innovative, futuristic, unique, it should look different from the surrounding buildings and catch a persons eye! Snohetta or SOM should design the building!

  4. I don’t know what constitutes as “boring”
    Good luck to Apple in making it “respond to the desired identity of the heart of San Francisco” as well as making sure it work ok for the nest tenant.

  5. While I am not a huge fan of the new store and applaud the energy consumption concern, reading the Planning Department’s Concerns explains why our city lacks more forward thinking architecture. I don’t expect we’ll see the likes of Calatrava and Koolhaas here any time soon.

  6. “I don’t know what constitutes as “boring”
    Uninteresting and tiresome; dull.
    It’s a giant cube with a glass front, pretty much the definition.

  7. @Curious – People make formula retail a black/white conversation. It is not such.
    Union Square is an international shopping destination, featuring everything from high-end (Chanel and Ferragamo), to department stores (Macy’s and Nordstrom), to hip and up and coming fashion houses (H&M and Uniqlo). Formula retail from major shopping chains is not only beneficial to this area, it is necessary.
    Hayes Valley, North Beach, and Valencia are corridors that are renowned for independent and one-of-a kind restaurants, boutiques, bars, and coffee shops. The attraction of visiting these areas is to go places you could go nowhere else. Due to economies of sale in terms of hiring, inventory ordering and supply management, taxes, etc large chains will be able to front up significantly higher rent and be able to make MORE of a profit. So, in order to keep these areas vibrant, formula retail is enacted to make sure “mom and pops” (although often these options are run by local groups with three or four restaurants/boutiques, although all are different) can afford to open up.
    Then you have areas, like the Castro, that have formula retail rules although the area is dying, with many vacant storefronts. In my opinion, a couple chains would actually invigorate the area.
    In short, people act like formula retail is a waste because the “market will dictate who goes where”, and if people want a Sightglass or Coffee Bar instead of Starbucks, or a Hayes Valley boutique instead of a J. Crew or Lacoste, then the market will correct for these preferences. The problem is that these stores do not start off on an equal footing to begin with, and as mentioned above, chains start out with significant pricing advantages where they can easily outprice smaller stores in rent. I think you’d be hard pressed to find that residents along Valencia, Hayes, or Columbus would rather have formula chains instead of the unique, vibrant, and THRIVING options that exist.
    So can we please stop pretending this is a black and white issue? Keeping a vacant restaurant in the dying Castro empty is stupid. But so is opening the doors to areas that are thriving due to their local boutiques and restaurants, in order that chains could come in and outprice those options due to higher rent.

  8. We ought to pass a law that any building designed by a starchitect (Snohetta, Calatrava, Koolhaas, etc.) is on a fast track that is automatically exempt from Planning Department reviews. Developers would pay more for architecture in order to expedite their projects we would have more beautiful buildings, and the Planning Department could stick with more routine approvals for which it is better qualified.

  9. Apple has enough talent to be able to meet Planning’s expectations and do something stellar here. Something about this site and the plaza reminds me of Apple’s 5th Ave location in New York. I know only the entry is above ground there, but this store could take a nod from that design.

  10. Patrick: the key flaw in your proposal is the implicit assumption that “a starchitect” will produce beautiful buildings.
    You really don’t have to look too far to see buildings that so-called “starchitects” have designed that are pretty damn ugly.

  11. There would be so many ways to “fix” this design in accordance with the Planning Department’s wishes and reality. An obvious one is a green roof with water (or greenery) cascading down the Stockton St. side rendering that blank wall far more interesting, especially if it was set back a bit and provided with integrated seating.
    I understand the issue about energy conservation and the rest, but frankly my personal deal-breaker is that blank wall. That simply cannot happen on a major street in the Union Square area. I also understand Apple’s desire to have “one big glass wall” exposing the entire store interior as a primary design element. Maybe that just means a store a few feet narrower with additional small store fronts on Stockton selling things like newspapers/magazines/flowers and other stuff that can be done in a small, shallow space.

  12. ^^Or if that cuts down the square feet too much, why not something both narrower and TALLER with 2 mezzanine levels?

  13. The Planning comments are so preposterous and pretentious as to be laughable. And I HATE the building. But seriously, the SF Planning department actually has such gall in terms of what they allow to be built and what they choose to pontificate stupidly about… its embarrassing.

  14. While I applaud the Department’s remarks/concerns about energy consumption of the all glass store, I wonder why they haven’t addressed such concerns for all the glass towers in the sky condos. I’m temporarily living in one and the a/c runs nearly constant now that the apartment gets summer sunlight and the heat ran all winter. I couldn’t imagine this building somewhere with more “real” winters and summers. I think it’s inexcusable that these condos aren’t built with better insulation, more tinted glass, LESS glass (e.g, the texture and breaks the Dept. writes about)

  15. Patrick – re your advice that “starchitects” should get some sort of autoapproval? Your faith in the marketing department is touching, but architecture and the Real Housewives franchise have more in common than you want to acknowledge. Fame does not necessarily equal value.
    As for this simplistic and at this point cliched expression of Apple’s aesthetic, the city is perfectly right to refuse it until the blank wall on Stockton is gone entirely, and the Asawa fountain either saved in situ or appropriately sited elsewhere in the neighborhood. The rest of their quibbles are kind of stupid, but I’ll bet if Apple has offered up something more thought-out, they wouldn’t have come up.

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