800 Presidio Avenue Rendering 2015

With Brand + Allen Architects having closed its doors in the four years since their design for the ‘out-of-scale’ redevelopment of the Booker T. Washington Community Services Center at 800 Presidio Avenue was approved, Perry Architects is now leading the charge and has refined the design for the building that’s now underway as newly rendered above.

The circa 2011 design, as approved by Planning, for comparison:

800 Presidio Avenue Rendering 2011

31 thoughts on “Refined Designs For Lower Pac Heights Development”
  1. The ‘new’ design is even more bland than the old. I’ve stayed in better looking Motel 6’s.

  2. Agree, the prior architect had a better sense of color, scale, and detailing, this is too boxy in appearance, and needs material, color, or detailing changes…. (sharpen that drafting and sketching pen, and get the budget numbers ticking on some decent skin materials….)

  3. I see some value engineering took place. The current iteration looks like a medical office building that wandered up the hill from the Kaiser Campus.

  4. Twenty years from now all these boring boxes will be faded boring boxes.
    There hasn’t been anything built to compare with William Pereira’s 1969 Transamerica Pyramid on a large or small scale. Why?

    1. 20 years? Try 10. Some boxes from just a decade ago look dated, run down and like glorified projects.

      My question is: What is with that fad of using orange accents? Is that supposed to be a way for architects to say “Look! We are unique!”?

      1. Compared to the brutalism inspired work that Pereira has done in the past, the Transamerica Pyramid still looks good.

        Looking at more work from Perry Architects, they’ve done some good things (such as 185 Post).

  5. The price of land in SF and the lack of PC guidelines demanding quality architectural lead to the endless stream of boxes being put up.

    Basically it is maximize profit by building out the allowable building envelope. To the sidewalk, to the adjacent buildings. Basically, build a box. Nothing really imaginative or unique.

    There are a few exceptions. The design of the boutique hotel – story posted yesterday- makes an effort to get away from being just another box. It works. It is one of the few recent designs that I like.

    I visit the Northwest quite a bit and medium sized projects like this, newer ones, are much more varied in design and style. Again, part of it is the cost of land. Seattle real estate is significantly less expensive than SF and Portland quite a bit less expensive.

  6. The thing about VE is that the PC has to approve these re-designs which are almost always poorer than the original. Why are developers allowed to “dumb down” the original design in so many situations. How often does the PC push back or do they push back at all.

    Some folks here mention the Jasper whose design is considered among the poorest of any recent downtown tower. Yet I read the initial design years ago was quite good. I have not found that original proposal but if it was indeed good its a shame the re-design was allowed because the current condo tower looks pretty bad.

    Is it a case where some developers propose a very nice looking building to get initial approval and then know they can come back and VE it down (make it less expensive for them to build) with a good chance the PC will accept the revised proposal?

  7. Because nothing is free. If the general public wants every building to be some sort of masterpiece, then the general public is perfectly free to tax itself and pay developers to build fancier buildings. But until that time, its not your money, so these demands for every building to some statement of artistry is just nonsense. If you want something fancy, then pay for it. If you want to drive a Rolls, you are gonna have to cough up some change. If you are only willing to pay for a Camry, then deal with it.

    Let developers build dense, build fast, and built efficiently – and you will surprised at how the market responds with this thing called lower prices.

  8. I love how everyone is criticizing the “new” architect when the fact is that Perry Architects is Steve Perry, who was the senior partner at Brand + Allen that oversaw multifamily design.

    Its the same architect folks, different masthead.

  9. So, should developers have license to build whatever meets their cost/profit criteria? We are still living with a lot of post-war soft-story junky architecture from the 40s and 50s and it isn’t going away anytime soon.

    Building apartments in San Francisco is a very profitable activity. The city would be foolish not to extract as much as they possibly can from developers, in terms of good quality construction and affordable units. These are public benefits so a lot of developers place no value on them. It is up to us, through our representatives, to make developers pay for the privilege of building in San Francisco.

    And it doesn’t have to result in higher housing costs. Developers are already charging as much as the market will bear. The trick is to get developers to concede as much as possible (accept less profit) without causing them to withdraw from new projects. Based on the record number of units in the pipeline, we aren’t even close to that point.

    You’re dreaming if you expect developers to reduce prices based on the ability to build crummier product. I’ve said this here on multiple occasions: Capital markets have no interest in supplying San Francisco with an unlimited number of multifamily units.

    1. This town truly lives in it’s own special bubble. I can’t think of another market where the (code conforming) design on this would merit a second glance but here it’s a problem that must be solved by holding developer’s feet to the fire to wring more concessions out of them because SF is so special. The collective narcissism is staggering.

      1. SF reviews more than four times the number of projects that NYC does despite NYC having ten times the population. Has this amount of review helped SF or hurt SF.

      2. “Narcissism” has nothing to do with it. Socketsite commenters seem to be all about “the market”, which is where I’m coming from.

        San Francisco is providing developers with an attractive city with geographic constraints, where they can build and make a lot of money. It benefits all of us to extract as much as possible in return. It’s the capitalist way.

        Developers extract as much from their customers and the public. The city would be foolish not to do the same. It doesn’t cost the city anything…the developers simply earn less profit.

        1. This is so true. Developers will pay more to build in a market like SF.

          At the very least hold them to the initial “beauty contest” design and don’t VE to deprecate that design.

          Think of the affordable housing requirement in SF. Developers complain about it but the Giants are almost doubling that requirement in Mission Rock and still plan to make out like bandits.

          Even if the requirement were lifted to halfway between what it is today and what the Giants are doing IMO developers would continue to build apace in SF.

        2. “the developers simply earn less profit”

          This is not how markets work. Yes, developers may earn less profit, but restricting supply also “simply” leads to everyone in the market for housing to compete against one another and pay more. It’s certainly hard to pin down exact numbers, but it’s very likely that most of this extraction that you speak of is coming from new buyers, not developers – developers simply won’t develop if profit margins aren’t high enough. Everyone needs a place to live.

          1. @anon–When developers put pipelined projects on hold, we can talk about “restricting supply”. We aren’t even close. In a strong market, smart real estate investors push asking rents to the point that they have a little bit of vacancy. That’s how they know they’re charging enough.

            The city should do the same thing. Demand more from developers *up to the point* where we begin seeing fewer projects proposed. That’s how we will know know that developers are giving enough in return for the privilege of building here.

            Bull markets don’t last forever. The developers are using this one to make as much money as possible for as long as it lasts. The city should be extracting as much as possible in terms of public benefits (affordable housing, good architecture, contributions to parks, etc.) as long as developers and their investors/lenders want to play. Developers understand how the market works…they will complain and scream but in the end they will do what they have to because they are in the business of building (e.g. The Giants).

          2. Did developers not do this 2000-2003 and again 2008-2009? These types of things don’t show up when the market is strong, but less development when the market is not strong is just as bad in the long run, and leads to the new baseline being higher. If a little bit more development had penciled during the bad years, prices wouldn’t have skyrocketed as much in good years.

          3. And another point is simply that the number of “pipelined” projects is lower even in good times. We have no idea what projects would be on the drawing boards if prices (time/money) for development were lower. You’re claiming that what we see now is the max, so we should watch for anything dropping from that max – but we have no idea what the theoretical max actually is without removing some of these “extractions” first.

          4. @anon–You have no proof (or even evidence) that construction is less than it might be. You just theorize that it *must* be based on an orthodox approach to economics. Here’s a fact: when the economy was bad, there was no debt or equity financing available for new development.

            You are laboring under the mis-perception that local regulations are a binding constraint on the number of units built. Actually, in good times and bad, the binding constraint is availability of capital. You can degrade requirements for new projects all you want and it won’t make a difference to the availability of capital. I have outlined criteria for determining when local planning regulations go to far (when there is a *measurable* reduction in new construction delivered to the market). If more construction is always better, how do you know when you’ve excessively debased standards for new projects?

            The city is geographically constrained and we have one chance to get it right for our own lifetimes and the lifetimes of our grandchildren. I’m unwilling to trust that to developers who are motivated primarily by private profit.

          5. You’re right, I have no proof. Also, you have no proof. My evidence is that every time regulations or fees of some type have been removed, additional construction has taken place. Why would the city be thinking about raising height limits if there wasn’t an expectation that developers would use the increased height? That seems like a little bit of evidence, no?

            Are you seriously saying that we’d have no more units being built right now if citywide height limits were raised to 80′ instead of 40′? The availability of capital just isn’t there?

          6. @anon–Nice work changing the topic. I don’t recall anything in the original posting or this comment thread about height limits.

            I already provided my proof. There are more units in the pipeline than there have ever been. In decades. Anyone asserting that development regulations are a binding constraint on the number of units delivered to the market needs to show their work. You are engaging in a logical fallacy known as “appeal to ignorance“.

          7. Is height not a development regulation? What? How in the world is that changing the topic?

            And I believe I proved my point, that increasing height limits would surely lead to more development (since you declined to respond to that question). We were talking about relative levels – yes, we’re building lots, but reducing development regulations would obviously lead to even more.

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