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Failed First

I learned the hard way that buildings, especially the ones you don’t like, don’t go away.

The good news is, you can bury the incriminating evidence. Before starting my firm in 1986, I worked for and with other architects. And while my name and signature are somewhere on those drawings, drafts and contracts, I’ve been assured that they are deeply hidden in a storage area of pre-electronic files.

One of my very first moonlight projects was with my good friend Kent Macdonald and it was as a remodel. The project included a revamped façade.  I’d like to think that the project’s final appearance was a result of naiveté (I was paralyzed by excitement and fear) and some stubborn clients.

It has an unfortunate composition that includes two different materials that step, something we would never do today. A clumsy balcony hovers overhead. It has been repainted in the ugliest cold color that emphasize the clumsy composition.

Luckily, for a period of time, the evidence was located on a sleepy San Francisco street. Unfortunately, a popular store opened half a block away and now my abomination is passed by thousands. Worse yet, by the time I opened my own firm five years later, I was living within walking distance to the project.

When your early work is so close to home, on a now desirable street, you have to reconcile yourself to the idea that you’ll be seeing the project far too often.

There are some methods of coping:

  1. Ignore the problem and wear dark glasses
  2. And when it’s too overcast, you can move to the other side of the street.
  3. Or take a very inefficient shortcut.
  4. Then, in a moment of maturity, you decide you can stand to walk by it but only when you regard the project with cold-blooded cynicism.
  5. Or with revelrous wisdom that you are now a better architect.

Nowadays, rather than wallowing in the existence of this design…mishap, I use it as a reminder of the kind of architect I have become, rather than the kind of architecture I design.

It was in the time during and after this building that I learned to stand firm. And every time I am ready to cave in, to acquiesce modern design, I think of that little building on–well, the location isn’t important.

The thing about buildings (other than their interminable lifespan) is that it takes a long time to get good at making them. You have to learn to communicate and compromise with a client without letting them steamroll over good design. You have to learn to utilize your space rather than just plop down your design. Oh and, not all your ideas are good ones.

p.s. If you want to know where the building is, send me a $50 bill and a self addressed envelop and I will mail you back the address.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cathy Simon #

    I do know the building well. It is NOT SO terrible. I do see and acknowledge it every time I go to Bi-Rite tho.
    Xo big time

    August 7, 2012
  2. DMurphy #

    I’m proud to have been involved, but maybe that’s because I have not been by there in years. (Nice Blog, keep it up)

    August 29, 2012
  3. Haha I’ll have to ask Kent about this…

    January 9, 2013

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