Protest Urbanism and the Art of Misdirection

Thousands of people descended on San Francisco’s SoMa and Mission Bay neighborhoods today to protest against/for China/Tibet, see the Olympic torch, skip work, or just plain people watch. 3 of those 4 groups weren’t disappointed. The torch route was announced earlier this week, with the caveat that it may “slightly” change. Well, as you can see in the above map, the route more than “slightly” changed due to the fear of another London or Paris-like protest. In the above map, blue is the announced route and red is the ACTUAL route. The air was thick with anticipation, tension, and excitement as everyone gathered to gawk at or attempt to extinguish the Olympic torch. However, unbeknownst to many of the patient observers and impatient protests, it had long passed-by in a boat or a bus or a secret underground tunnel. Cadres of riot police contributed to the misdirection and either encouraged people to stay put or herded them back and forth into different areas — god knows why, as the torch didn’t even come close to where anyone was waiting.


“We’re getting every barricade known to man and hauling it in from everywhere,” quote SF Mayor Gavin Newsom. Today, the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco are redirected. No one. Gets. Anywhere.


Jetskis in Mission Creek. On any other occasion, this would be completely awesome. As it stands, Giant’s stadium (and hopefully the foundations of the bridge I’m standing on) will be safe from aquatic attack, deep-sea protestors, and agitated Atlanteans.


On the other side of the bridge, cops kept forming up into different shapes. Here, their military training permits the creation of an ersatz plaza in the middle of 3rd St. It’s like there’s going to be a performance or something. Surely this is the torch route? Nope. Just defending a small portion of SF asphalt from the confused masses.


It seems like every cop in San Francisco is completely occupied with making shapes and lines in Mission Bay. There’s gotta be a crime spree going on in the opposite corner of the city.

More photos at the Life Without Buildings flickr page.

Frank Lloyd Wright in San Francisco



The Xanadu Gallery is the only existing Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in San Francisco.Originally constructed in 1912, the building was the home of the V.C. Morris Gift Shop, and it was the Morrises who commsioned Wright to expand and remodel their store. Considering that the commission was for a retail space, it seems odd that there are no display windows, aside for a small terrarium-like entry structure. A little web research yielded the answer to this puzzler. When asked by the owners about the lack of exterior display, Wright replied “We are not going to dump your beautiful merchandise on the street, but create an arch-tunnel of glass, into which the passers-by may look and be enticed. As they penetrate further into the entrance, seeing the shop inside with its spiral ramp and tables set with fine china and crystal, they will suddenly push open the door, and you’ve got them!”

All built-in furniture, shelves, and tables are original. The most notable feature, however, has to be the large sprial ramp that leads to the second floor gallery. Although the gift shop was designed 5 years after the Guggenheim, it was actually constructed before the iconic New York museum, allowing Wright to use the gift shop as a sort of testing lab for the Guggenheim’s famous spiral.

The massive brick exterior definitely has the Wright look, but with its simple facade and ornate entry, it also brings to mind the work of his mentor, Louis Sullivan. Particulary his late-career Midwestern banks, aka “jewel boxes.”

The V.C. Morris Gift Shop has the distinction of being one of only seventeen Wright buildings that the AIA has deemed “essential for preservation” due to its contribution to American culture.

photo by Carol M. Highsmith

More Parkin(ing)

There’s a lot of plotting and scheming (working and relaxing) going on at Life Without Buildings’ secret headquarters (my bedroom), but real posts will hopefully resume soon. In the meantime, here are a few more photos from last week’s Park(ing) Day.

…and still more on the flickr page.