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]