Unbuilt San Francisco: The View from Futures Past
Curated by Benjamin Grant and Cydney M. Payton
CHS and SPUR join AIA San Francisco / Center for Architecture & Design; Environmental Design Archives, College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley; and San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library in Unbuilt San Francisco, a five-venue exhibition examining visions of the urban landscape in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
The twentieth century saw both a series of ambitious efforts to reimagine the city of San Francisco and the explosive growth of the Bay Area as a metropolitan region. In Unbuilt San Francisco: The View from Futures Past, the California Historical Society and SPUR present some of the most revealing episodes in these distinct but related streams of civic discourse through projects that were proposed but never realized. Concern with a particular site, problem, or opportunity often spans a period of decades and presents a window into a city's changing attitudes, politics, and values. Every bit as much as the cities we build, the cities we imagine and reject reveal the collective creativity of the urban project and the imperfect civics of place-making.
The subtitle of our exhibition, The View from Futures Past, is borrowed from Mike Davis's landmark book City of Quartz (1990), which imagines the potential of Los Angeles from "the ruins of its alternative future." We know that there is value to examining the future that almost was alongside the future that actually arrived. Whether we look back one hundred years or a century forward, this exhibition advances fruitful discussion and debate around issues that impact our future in our region and our California.
In the galleries of the California Historical Society, we survey three ambitious efforts to reimagine the city of San Francisco and the Bay Area as a metropolitan region—Marincello, Yerba Buena Center, and the Ferry Building—reaching beyond plans and models to depict the political, social, and economic challenges to each. Throughout, architectural drawings, letters, photographs, artworks, videos, and newspaper clippings represent the voices of advocates and detractors. Through these sites, we see the built environment of today as a collected history that is still building.