PG&E Plaza: Folsom and Freemont

A compact new PG&E substation addition will rise 30-feet in height adjacent to the much larger one at the corner of Folsom and Fremont which will remain in place.

PG&E Plaza - Folsom Detail

The new building will be set back 30 feet from the sidewalk, with a concrete façade designed by Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects that will unfold into a public plaza, with seating, pedestals and trees for shade, fronting Folsom.

PG&E Plaza - Folsom Day

And recessed between the rippling concrete bands, led lights will illuminate the walls and ground planes of the plaza, with colors that could vary with the seasons, events or celebrations.

PG&E Plaza - Folsom Night

52 thoughts on “Designs For A Modern Folsom Street Plaza”
    1. Ha! That’s the first thing I saw too – I thought, “Run DMC? That’s some old stock imagery…”

      1. have you been outside? every teen has that shirt or a parody of it, like “SES AME” in the same typeface with muppets on it. sadly, i doubt any of these kids have actually LISTENED to RUN DMC, but it looks cool b/c it’s vintage now.

  1. PG&E needs to pressure washe the large substation building. It could also use creative lighting that would match the LED lights on their new plaza. On that prime location that substation would look awesome if it were cleaned and lit properly.

    1. They’re going to need to pressure wash the new one, too. And let’s hope the “light installation” will fare better than the sad, sad one along the Embarcadero.

      1. The sad, sad one along the Embarcadero was designed by the same guy as this one. You’d think he’d learn.

        1. The lighting strip designed by Stanley along the Embarcadero was really neat until it just gradually faded away in pieces due to lack of maintenance.

          1. When something starts to fail as quickly as it did and then as thoroughly as it did over not very much time, the problem wasn’t just lack of maintenance. Plus, part of design is taking into account the environment — including the utter ineptitude of local maintenance programs — and creating something that will last despite the challenges.

          2. A well designed public space shouldn’t require that much upkeep. Don’t design high-maintenance spaces.

  2. When was that thing built… the 60’s? You would think whatever is in there could now be reduced to the size of a van and the ugly hulk torn down.

  3. I was wondering what that crane was doing behind that funny looking wall as i would walk by there on the way to work. I saw an awesome skate spot too when I saw this!!

  4. Love the idea of LEDs running up the vertical insets of the older building.
    Unfortunately, the new “plaza” will be a homeless encampment/skate park within a month of its completion.

    1. Within a month? Try the instant it’s completed if not before. The ribbon “cutting” will probably be a meth head pissing on those lights.

  5. I wish I could see beautiful plaza designs and not think immediately about homeless encampments. Something has to change!

  6. I’m glad to see that Lord Stanley is preserving midcentury brutalism for the rest of us to enjoy.

    Though for a space that is most likely to turn into a homeless pissoir & junkie shooting gallery, I don’t know why they even bothered putting trees in it.

  7. The PG&E Embarcadero Substation serves North Beach to ATT Park, including the FiDi and Chinatown. PG&E has been making major upgrades to it to increase capacity and reliability, including laying a submarine power cable from the switch yard near pier 70. This is part of the termination of this 230kV cable (pdf with detailed project description and maps at namelink). A few years ago they added a single transformer that is 20 feet tall. Not likely they will be shrinking this substation to van size any time soon.

    From the PG&E planning docs, which outline the entire power feed to this substation: “The peak demand on Embarcadero Substation has grown from about 160 MW in 1992 to 270 MW in 2008….peak demand in 2016 will be approximately 305 MW.”

    A single 230kV cable can supply about 400MW. The projection is that by 2030 that won’t be enough for this substation. This new cable is for redundancy now (N+2, as this is the third 203kV cable) and for capacity in the future. The redundancy is needed because “the majority of the commercial and industrial customers served by Embarcadero are classified as “essential” under the CPUC’s guidelines. “Essential” load includes customers normally exempt from rotating outages because they provide essential public health, safety, and security services. These include customers providing essential fire, police, prison, and national security services.”

    Sadly, as long as PG&E remains wedded to reliable old fashion metal for power transmission, which stubbornly does not obey Moore’s Law, we will have to live with a half dozen or so stand-alone concrete bunker-like substations in San Francisco.

      1. Tesla!

        But seriously Jake is right on that not all things electrical shrink over time. You could fit a telephone exchange the size of this building in 1950 into your pocket today. But not a power station. If anything more stringent safety regulations might have increased the size of power handling equipment.

    1. Lower Folsom is supposed to be transformed into a urbane, fashionably attractive residential district. That hulking atrocity is a horrendous presence in such Tableau. Is Trompe-l’oeil too trite a possible solution?

      1. I’ve never worked at the planning department. Based on their results, neither have most of the employees there.

  8. There are so many beautiful PG&E substations in California, some of them look like classically designed libraries, with windows and all. This is probably the most hideous I have seen.

    1. Even if practicalities still necessitate a building of these proportions to house the innards, why not tear down the exterior walls and replace them with something along these lines?

      1. Because the substation is an amazing piece of design – it is and will be even after all this construction the best building in the area. It is a truly thoughtful and elegant building – I feel sorry for those who can only see this and think “brutalist architecture is bad.” I wouldn’t even call this brutalist – it might be a tangent from brutalism, but has far too much ornamentation to be true brutalist. Sophisticated and thoughtful ornamentation.

  9. Exact same proposal that Stanley put forward for a substation in the Dogpatch. Glad to he’s putting a lot of effort into sit specific design.

      1. Or – he’s trying to make a connection between the pieces of infrastructure. Helping the public to understand the world around them…

  10. The “exterior walls” are a concrete containment vessel. 300-400 MW is a big blowtorch. For scale, the original San Onofre nuclear reactor was 400+MW (decommissioned) and the currently operating Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors are about 1,100 MW each. I’d rather Profit Greed & Explosions spent their ‘beatification’ funds burying overhead wires, replacing decrepit transformers, and updating their gas pipeline tests.

    As for the Embarcadero Substation, glad they are making it more resilient and hope they don’t have another fire there. Also, a key to the plaza is to hose the dog pee from the trees. They really should raise them in planters to discourage the dogwalkers. I had to cross the street to get away from it at a ‘popular’ corner by $ million plus condos on Delancey St this afternoon. And only a block or so from the dog park.

    FWIW, this substation was built in the age of Nixon, during the Vietnam War and the secret bombings of Cambodia, opened in the very year we backed Pinochet’s coup, and while Reagan was Governor of California. Brutalism is of it’s time.

    1. Then how about the World’s densest, most luxuriant “living wall?” Something right out of “Return to Planet of the Apes” proportions.

    2. Thank you for the great primer on power infrastructure. Interesting stuff, to me anyway. I like the existing substation, it is of its time and I like the variety that it lends to the city. However, I wish something could be done about the one on Larkin and Eddy.

    3. Is there really a PG&E ‘beatification’ fund? Any way I can get some of that targeted for the saints of the church of the subgenius?

  11. Given that I was without power significantly more total hours during my first ten years in SF then during the previous thirty combined (including nearly four days without power after a fire at what I think was this very substation) anything PG&E can do to increase redundancy and reduce the possibility of future outages is ok by me.

    You haven’t lived until you’ve had to get up early and drive to an ice plant every day in hopes of procuring enough dry ice to prevent all your perishables from going bad that day.

    Having said that, I should note that reliability has been much b better the past few years but there are still more outages than I’d expect in a first world city not subject to extreme weather. I’m not a big fan of the public power stuff — if anyone can screw it up worse than PG&E, it’s the city — but PG&E’s track record makes me question that position whenever my lights go out.

    1. I can’t recall a fire at Embarcadero substation. There was a huge and embarrassing fire at the Mission (and 8th) substation — embarrassing because they didn’t detect the fire until some random employee noticed it was really hot. That was in 2003 and there was another fire at Mission in 2005.

  12. I think it would have been better to do a shallow storefront here, to ameliorate the deadness of this corner. For all the reasons noted above, this is just going to be a dirty shadowed windswept plaza. (Meaning no offense to then intent of either PG&E or Stanley.)

  13. I would vote for a Berliner Imbiss….. currywurst mit pommes frites, und eine bier bitte….fits the concrete styled adjacencies….

  14. They should have made this a private park for the neighborhood, like Gramercy. Keys needed and all. It will just quickly devolve into a homeless encampment. Like others have stated, I can small the urine already. With regards to the existing substation, it could be beautiful in its own right. Power wash and replace the already existing but burnt out down lights at the very top of the building.

  15. This coming along side the building where in 1996 a whistleblower, well before Ed Snowden revealed all the information he released from the NSA/CIA, this is where the infamous room where AT&T was shoveling bulk information from the US residentaiual phone and Data bases that no one knew about before this brave man blew this whistle on this windowless information hub for both AT&T and the US government. And looks like they’re adding more of the same.Sad and shameful buildings and history, and ongoing. Still.

    1. PG&E and AT&T are different companies in different industries. PG&E is the one that over-pressurizes old and improperly tested gas lines so that they blow up neighborhoods, not the one that gives our private internet data to the government without a warrant. I realize it’s easy to get the confused since they both have three letters and an ampersand in their name, but get with the program. 😉

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