Friday, June 21, 2013

Embarcadero Center

Photo ©Darren Bradley
San Francisco's Embarcadero Center, at the foot of Market Street in the heart of the city was meant to be a sort of Modernist version of New York City's Rockefeller Center. There was even a Rockefeller involved in the project. 





Photo ©Darren Bradley


This mixed-use project consists of seven concrete towers along an three-level concrete esplanade, and the whole thing is a vision in Late Modern concrete brutalist architecture. 


Photo ©Darren Bradley

It's mostly office space - being in the Financial District - and shops and restaurants along the esplanade's three levels. 


Photo ©Darren Bradley


At its center, instead of a sunken plaza watched over by Prometheus, there's a raised plaza with a giant tulip. 


Photo ©Darren Bradley

To be honest, I'm not wild about the cold, sober designs of the office towers. It's probably just the sort of project that caused most people to turn away from Modernism in the 70s and 80s. It largely turns its back on the city and instead creates a sort of self-contained city within a city". This was built at a time when urban cores across America were in decay, and new projects in city centers were generally built to isolate those within from the chaos around them. San Diego's Horton Plaza is another example of that. 

But the project seems well designed, and doesn't suffer the same fate as many other late modernist / concrete brutalist projects (which are usually empty). There always seem to be a fair number of people about, and the storefronts are occupied with upscale shops. 


Photo ©Darren Bradley
But the thing about this project that mesmerized me as a kid, and that I always insisted we visit whenever we were in town, was this building (seen above and below here):


Photo ©Darren Bradley

This is the Hyatt Regency. It was designed by the architect John Portman, and completed in 1973. That structure on the top was a revolving restaurant that I loved going to as a kid. But it no longer revolves (I've been told that was for legal reasons), and is no longer a restaurant open to the public. It's now just a private club / concierge floor for hotel guests, unfortunately. 

But the best part is the interior. 
Photo ©Darren Bradley
I spent a lot of time here as a kid staring up at this atrium, taking it all in. I remember how it literally took my breath away the first time I saw it, around 1980 or so. This lobby is largely responsible for my earliest fond memories of architecture. Even seeing it again today, when some of the polish and novelty has worn off this place, it still elicits a visceral reaction for me. 

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