‘Unbuilt SF’ offers remembrances of futures past

Townhouses on Alcatraz? Hydrogen-generating algae fields atop Twin Peaks? A 20-story tower at Lands End? Wouldn’t it be fascinating to consider what the Bay Area might have looked like, if not for the vagaries of funding, politics, taste, mortality or chance?

A selection of designs on view at Wurster Hall. (Click bottom-right icon for full-screen view.)

“Unbuilt San Francisco,” a collaborative exhibit showing at UC Berkeley and four San Francisco venues, presents a rare look at plans and visions that, for better or worse, never became part of the Bay Area’s urban landscape.

The 46 designs currently on view at Wurster Hall are all for buildings and sites accessible to the public, notes exhibition co-curator Waverly Lowell, head of the campus’s Environmental Design Archives. That way, she says, it’s easy to compare the built and unbuilt versions. “People can go ‘Oh my god, it could have looked like that!'”

One drawing depicts a 1969 redevelopment scheme – complete with townhouses, hotel, theater and helicopter pad – envisioned for Alcatraz. Another from the same year depicts a plan for Lands End cove near the Cliff House. Featuring a 20-story tower, shopping center and motel, the scheme so alarmed members of the public that it led to creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area several years later.

Unrealized visions for Yerba Buena Center, Crissy Field, the Ferry Building, a dual football-baseball stadium at China Basin, San Francisco City Hall, the Transbay Terminal and the San Francisco Mint, among others, are also on view at Wurster.

Visitors will also get a crash course in changing modes of representation – from Beaux Arts-style washes to 21st-century digital images – between the early 20th and early 21st centuries. Sometimes, notes Lowell, “it’s because the drawings are beautiful” that one design prevails over competing plans. “The rendering part is really important, because the client doesn’t read the plans; the client looks at the drawing.”

“Unbuilt San Francisco: Ambition and Imagination” is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, through Nov. 8, in 110 Wurster.

The collaborating organizations, in addition to the Environmental Design Archives, are the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), AIA San Francisco Center for Architecture and Design, the California Historical Society and the San Francisco Public Library.