Star Trek and a Science Fiction San Francisco

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[image via Memory Alpha]

While thinking about the two very different issues of starship architecture and San Francisco’s Presidio last month, blogger Telstar Logistics reminded me of our “duty to preserve the Presidio so future generations may use it as the site for Star Fleet Academy.” How could I have neglected to mention this earlier! Two such germane topics (relative to this site, anyway) seamlessly merging in laser-welded glory. This then got me to thinking about San Francisco in general and the criticial role it tends to play in science fiction. For those who have no idea what I’m taking about, A little history may be in order.

In the world of Star Trek, San Francisco is a much more important place that it is in our sad little reality. Sure there were minor differences, like the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s (which, if they were anything like the Cola Wars, I shudder to imagine) and the massive homeless problem of 2020 with its “Sanctuary District” concentration camps, but I think it was the most pivotal event in human history, first contact with extraterrestrial life, that had the largest impact on San Francisco. With deference to it’s history as the location where 50 of the earth’s nation gathered to sign the UN Charter (a fact celebrated by a piss-smelling MUNI station in a bad neighborhood), San Francisco was chosen as the location to sign the first Interplanetary Charter, and eventually became the headquarters for both Starfleet and Starfleet Academy. Specifically, both institutions are located in The Presidio — the currently hotly contested battle ground for a new Contemporary Art Museum. Excuse the extended digression, but here’s an image of Trek’s alternate Presidio:

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[image via Memory Alpha]

It seems that at some point in this alternate history, San Francisco’s preservationists eventually conceded defeat. An “air tram station” boldly looks out over the Golden Gate Bridge and SF Bay. A softer mix of Brutalism and basic curvy sci-fi movie architecture. Ideal? No. But definitely an improvement over the current faux-historic designs mandated by overly-vocal and underly-visionary individuals, committees and trusts. And then there’s Starfleet Headquarters – vaguely Niemeyer-esque modernism in a japanese tea garden. While I don’t think I’d like to see this building dominating the park, I do hope we don’t have to wait until the 22nd century for something to get built that’s truly of its time.

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[image via Memory Alpha]

Outside of the Star Trek Universe, San Francisco also recently became the new home of the mythical city of Atlantis in the television series Stargate: Atlantis. And in the slightly distopian future of William Gibson’s All Tomorrow’s Parties, we see a San Francisco that’s been drastically altered due to another huge Earthquake. In that novel, the Bay Bridge, connecting SF and Oakland, has essentially become its own multi-tiered city.

But we don’t need to look towards Science Fiction to see the potential of an alternate San Francisco. There was time— lets call it the 90’s—when it looked like San Francisco might become ground zero for all important new technologies. The Presidio was briefly envisioned as a “global center for innovative ideas and technologies to make human societies sustainable.” The Presidio was to be a beacon for human progress and achievement — not entrirely unlike, Starfleet Headquarters. Unfortunately, funding was never found but the park itself was saved from developers, albeit on the the terms that it becomes self-sustaining. A bit ironic, no? And now as people become more aware of the importance of sustainability and the projects and ideas emerge from all corners of the Earth, wouldn’t it be beneficial—maybe even inspiring—to build a single point where all these ideas merge in a giant think-thank of sustainability; where scientists, theorists, and architects meet to share and test their ideas? The Presidio could still some day become a live testing ground for world-changing strategies and design. Instead, we get ugly contemporary art museums.

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[A foggy trek through the Presidio]


Also in the 90’s, it seem possible to think that San Francisco was poised to become America’s new Media Capital: the hub of television, radio, and every other live-streaming, interactive information portal dreamt of by pundits of the time. This might be a bit optimistic, but in reading Valleywag’s CNET obituary, it’s not difficult to imagine a takeover by new media.

“CNET went public in 1996, and its market cap peaked at $12 billion before the dotcom bubble burst. At one point, it flirted with NBC, going into a joint-venture deal to create NBCi, a now-forgotten Web portal. At the time, some pundits imagined CNET and NBC combining — with CNET on top.”

If SF became media hub of the US, what kind of impact would that have had? Would major companies relocate? Would the relatively uncrowded city residents know and love suddenly become a hyper-dense media metropolis? Would it have revived interest in a global environmental research facility?

Could San Francisco have become a techno-sustainable mediatropolis?

&#183 Chasing a green vision for the Presidio [SF Gate]
&#183 Reconsidering A Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio [LWB]
&#183 Adaptive Reuse of Crashed Starships [LWB]
&#183 The Work of Art in the Age of Global Fashion Production [LWB]

Reconsidering A Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio

[image courtesy 3A Gallery]

Here in San Francisco, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding GAP founder Don Fisher’s proposal to building a new contemporary art museum in the historic Presidio. The initial proposed building for CAMP was a yawn-inducing glass box designed by Gluckman-Mayner that’s been universally panned in the city and, perhaps even worse, fueled arguments that nothing should be built in the Presidio. In an effort to create a bit of an extended dialogue around the topic, 3A Gallery organized an exhibition that asked ten local architecture firms to propose alternate strategies—including a scheme by yours truly— for building in the historic National Park. Tomorrow night, 11 December at 7 pm, 3A Gallery will host a panel discussion to consider the schemes and potential strategies and methods for building a massive contemporary art museum in a sensitive context.

&#183 CAMP:Reconsidered [3A Gallery]
&#183 CAMP-related posts [Curbed SF]

A Look Inside the California Academy of Sciences by Renzo Piano

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Inside the California Academy of Sciences (image courtesy Ethen Wood)

Life Without Buildings’ Man-On-The Street Ethen Wood stopped in to Renzo Piano’s New California Academy of Sciences, a building described by New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff as “a blazingly uncynical embrace of the Enlightenment values of truth and reason. Its Classical symmetry — the axial geometry, the columns framing a central entry — taps into a lineage that runs back to Mies van der Rohe’s 1968 Neue Nationalgalerie and Schinkel’s 1828 Altes Museum in Berlin and even further, to the Parthenon.” Continue reading for more museum photos—including the new Maya Lin installation—from last weekend’s members-only preview; surely the calm before the storm that will the insanely crowded public opening on Saturday. Continue reading “A Look Inside the California Academy of Sciences by Renzo Piano”

David Byrne, Daniel Libeskind, and the Audio Perception of Space

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[image via Creative Time]

David Byrne’s Playing The Building will come to a close this weekend. The art installation—a repeat performance of a 2005 installation in Stockholm—transforms an abandoned Manhattan warehouse into a fully playable, fully immersive musical instrument. Byrne describes the resulting cacophony as “authorless” but “strongly directed” music, with sounds created by air hoses snaking through rusty plumbing pipes to blow out tones that evoke broken flutes or lonesome bagpipes, while motors vibrate against structural steel to create ominous disharmonic rumblings that can be felt as much as heard and solenoids peck at old columns and like industrial, robotic woodpeckers. This diverse orchestra of architecture is all controlled via a simple vintage pump organ — an organ that quite literally gives a voice to the space.

Music and architecture have been conceptually linked since Goethe famously uttered, “I call architecture frozen music.” Architects have long struggled with integrating the two ideas — sometimes successfully, often not. David Byrne’s installation introduces we get an entirely new, quite literal, integration of the two. In contrast with Playing The Building, music has a much more subtle influence on a small part of a new San Francisco museum.

[The Yud Space in the San Francisco CJM]

Within the new Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, there’s a room known as the Yud space. It’s a large performance space—faceted in a way that unmistakably marks the building as a Daniel Libeskind design—that’s planned to accomodate everything from string quartets to avant-garde music recordings. Currently, a John Zorn piece interpreting various letters of the Hebrew alphabet is reverberating through the fractured room. Some interpreations included minimal beats or soothing strings while others sound like a Jimmy Hendrix – John Cage duet dubbed over a Sonic Youth B-side. I loved it. Each “movement” felt as if it was actually enhanced by the space. Finally! A Libeskind design that complements the exhibited work! However, it was impossible not to notice that the 60-something-year-old couple who were also in the room during my visit clearly didn’t share my enthusiasm. They left quickly, making their opinions known with a few disparaging comments concerning both the Yud and the music. It occurred to me then that Libeskind has possibly created a room where, depending on the temperament of the visitor, one’s appreciation of the space might very well rely on the piece of music experienced while standing within it. Would that same 60-something-year-old couple have a similar reaction if they were listening to a string quartet perform Schubert’s “Rosamunde?”

In Playing The Building, music is a representation of the space, while in the Yud, the space becomes— at least potentially—a representation of the music. Through Byrne’s project, we come to understand the building in a new way, through a new interpretation of our sense of sound as it applies to space and architecture. But it’s an understanding that is unlikely to change one’s opinion of the Manhattan warehouse. But in an arguably more controversial space, like Libeskind’s museum, it seems like audio output has the power to actually shape one’s perception of the space. An impressive feat for an architect whose work is often written-off as heavy-handed and repetitive.

&#183 Playing the Building [Creative Time]
&#183 David Byrne’s New Band, With Architectural Solos [New York Times]
&#183 Home is Where The Harp Is [Life Without Buildings]

The Ruins of San Francisco’s Sutro Baths


Gloomy San Francisco Days are always good for exploring ruins. This week, on a particularly grey and windy day, a friend and I took a stroll through the Sutro Baths in San Francisco…or at least what’s left of them. If I were making a low-budge, post-apocalyptic student film, I would probably use the site as my primary location. It’s been 40 years since the baths burned down, but what remains still has a definite ground-zero vibe. Mysterious pieces of concrete and brick walls jut out of the hillside growth and unusual sand formations. Navigating the site can be tricky—as Maude will surely attest—with pieces of bent, rusted metal and concrete holes aiming to trip up careless explorers. When the Sutro Baths opened in 1896, it was the world’s largest indoor swimming hole — complete with 7 different pools, a private museum and 8,000 seat concert hall. Continue reading “The Ruins of San Francisco’s Sutro Baths”