Cityscapes: San Francisco and its Buildings, is a handsome, new, pocket-size book by John King, columnist and urban critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Cityscapes is a collection of columns in which he comments, in vivid prose, on the state of the city’s urban environment and the efforts made to update, renew and expand it.
King has been an astute observer of the Bay Area’s architecture scene for a number of years. While he may touch, in passing, on some of the City’s iconic structures, mostly he talks about regular, ordinary buildings, buildings that are so familiar that they have slipped from conscious awareness unless a special feature is pointed out or they are in the news in the context of new construction. But it is the City's unique structures, here and there, that by good fortune have been saved from the wrecker’s ball, that draw his special attention.
He reminds us of some of the small urban oases that dot the city in unexpected places. Buildings of different styles and periods, or buildings and a unique natural setting come together to create small enclaves that please the eye and nurture the spirit. Four small, connected cottages, white stucco and dark bays, that could have been plucked from Carmel and deposited on top of Russian Hill make just such a place. There, amid shrubbery and bougainvillea, they sit, through some alchemy of topography and space and light, in serene harmony with the residential tower with which they share a brick alley.
And then there is the magic of color. He observes how some dismal, depressing high rise apartments for seniors were totally changed by rectangles in soft blue and ocher that highlighted architectural details. The moody, grey monoliths were transformed into domiciles that project liveliness, energy and cheerfulness.
In some ways, Cityscapes is probably a guide book. It’s a guide that shows how a lively, energetic, modern city comes to terms with new needs through progress and renewal. It demonstrates how, in San Francisco, the past integrates with the present and allows for change in the future. And it opens our eyes and makes us appreciate the vibrant, architectural kaleidoscope that is San Francisco.
John King will talk about Cityscapes: San Francisco and its Buildings in the San Francisco Public Library’s Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room on December 14, 6:15 PM. This program is supported by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. All Library programs are free and open to the public. Cityscapes: San Francisco and its Buildings by John King (Heyday, 2011).