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Sea Ranch Nostalgia

Sea Ranch at Dusk

Last month, I went to the Sea Ranch exhibit at SF MOMA and it was like going back in time for me (metaphorically–the laugh lines remain!). I’ve stayed at the Charles Moore condo –its full size mock up is in the show—a number of times during my years as a Master graduate student of Architecture at UC Berkeley.  But I couldn’t tell where my nostalgia was grounded: was it for a longing for my youth or a desire for a revival of modest and lyrical architecture?

For those of you who know me and my architectural tendencies, you might find it surprising for me to rave about the architecture of Sea Ranch. It is not exactly super modern, crafted of steel and glass­­ and exacting in its detailing. If Sea Ranch is anything, it is of that coast, of that topography, of that climate, an unparalleled spot.

And in that spot sits something simple, uncomplicated, rustic and maybe even a little bite crude. Modern architecture demands that it be the life of the party—but what of the guests that surround it? Sea Ranch. What a breath of fresh air, what an uncontrived set of buildings.

And it’s not just Sea Ranch Condominium 1 that is so striking, it is also the Moonraker Athletic Center and the other condo projects that were never completed.

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They still sit, as if waiting for one last planning department meeting. The monochromatic wooden exterior of the Moonraker building is in sharp contrast to the colorful interior with the superb super graphics done by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. These simple details, as if to say that what matters in a building is the lives lived inside.


And the Chapel? A reminder of a woven basket–or a hat? Somehow perfectly in tune with its environment.

sea ranch chapel

I feel humbled by this architecture. Because while modernism is in my blood, I aspire to do as good to a site as they have done to theirs. It is an enormous gift to be able to build something that is so right, so true and so timeless. Brava!

It is time for our museum to show renewed interest in architecture, the environment and help foster a constructive dialogue about our changing city and its older and newer residents.


Further Reading:

“You can view The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment and Idealism” through another prism — as the embodiment of how SFMOMA no longer has much interest in the intersection of architecture with our contemporary world and the concerns that cloud our lives.”  (John King, SF Chronicle)

‘Paradise at the end of the world’: An oral history of the Sea Ranch (Part I) (Curbed)


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Enjoyed your article and enjoyed the thoughts about your wondering about modernism. I keep thinking that when the concepts were being developed for the community, there was a deep understanding of a new modern look at the world and the ecology of the built environment.

    May 8, 2019
  2. The design is awesome. Also if you build design like this, and your environment is near the sea, it will be great. It makes you more closer to nature and your surroundings are peaceful. Very interesting architecture and design. Thank you so much for sharing this. You are the best!

    March 12, 2020

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