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The City by The Bay

I am so thankful I get to call San Francisco home for nearly 8 years now. In this world of transplants, I'm basically native. My parents grew up here (and recently moved back), and just about every other family member has at one point lived here if they don't still. I went to architecture school here in the city, and I cannot imagine it any other way. Every semester we had a combination of walking tours, site visits, construction observation, and a variety of other field trips within this time-warped-Europeaneqsue-tiny-urban city.

Looking down at the Bay from ontop of the Wave Organ in the Marina.

Photography by Samantha Buckley

Inside Morphosis's Federal Building lobby in San Francisco, California

I specifically recall my architecture theory course. We were a tiny group, only 3 or 4, so the instructor decided we should be talking about architecture in architecture, and that was just so rad. Don't mind us in Morphosis's Federal Building for 3 hours, not a big deal. Oh, you wanted to talk about Warped Space in James Turrell's "Three Gems" followed by the Tower at Herzog & de Meuron's de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park? Twist my arm.

Today, I still love reading architecture theory, and miss the guided discussions. In a sad attempt of keeping that going, I have an extensive book wishlist, and a very loose monthly deadline (very very loose, we started 1st of the year, and have done 2 books-ish) to finish reading and to discuss. Basically, I'm proposing that when you're stomping about in San Francisco, read a little Wabi Sabi and check out these 5 inspiring places.

Photography by Samantha Buckley


The de Young museum within Golden Gate Park, designed by architects Herzog and de Meuron is a really beautiful project. Just as cool as the architecture, is that the Tower, lobby, and sculpture garden are all open to the public (aka, free!). I am particularly obsessed with the James Turrell piece in the sculpture garden. Three Gems was first built in 2005, and in 2014 James Turrell came back and made a few modifications -- can we please appreciate how amazing the glow of LED lights is compared to neon?!

Photography by Samantha Buckley


A snap shot of the interactive art by Ned Kahn at the Exploratorium, showing Braiding Rivers, a play of air and fine powder.

I hope when you first arrive in San Francisco, you are mesmerized by the Ned Kahn sculpture of beautiful metallic sequins flutterings around you as you take the escalator as SFO. That is possibly your first encounter with a Ned Kahn sculpture. I think he is SO awesome, I could stare at his work for a lifetime. Well, equally incredible, he did a series of natural sciences inspired interactive pieces at the Exploratorium. The Exploratorium is an adaptive reuse project in the Pier 15 building, thanks to efforts by architecture firm EHDD, a natural fit for the "country's largest net zero energy museum".

Photography by Melody Hesaraky


James Turrell's SkyGarden at the Federal Building designed by Morphosis in San Francisco.

Many people don't realize, but the Federal Building, designed by Morphosis, has a public access Sky Garden and main lobby during regular business hours, assuming you don't mind going through airport-tight-security. Going up to this space during the day provides unusual views of the city, considering the height variance granted for the federal project. Passing by in the evenings is a completely different experience. I need to time it that I visit on a dark winter afternoon in hopes that the James Turrell SkyGarden is lit while I can still access the outdoor space.

I will never say I've seen enough of Turrell's work.

Photography by Florian Holzherr

Iwan Baan's photograph of Morphosis's San Francisco Federal Building

Photo courtesy of Morphosis photographed by Iwan Baan.


Wandering out in the Marina, trying to get just a bit closer to the boats, you might find yourself, as I did, walking right past the Club House. Well, keep going. The Wave Organ which lies beyond is soooo worth it, more than just your pedometer will thank you. You can't see it until you are absolutely on top of it, but you will know it once you're there.

Photography by Samantha Buckley

The Wave Organ lies at the furthest point of the jetty, carefully composed with pieces from a demolished cemetery, providing a myriad of richly carved stone, alongside pieces found during construction and unused curbs from the city. The cemetery was built during the Gold Rush Era, and was demolished to make way for a housing development north of San Francisco. The installation designed by artists Peter Richards and George Gonzales includes 25 PVC and concrete pipes spread throughout that dip into the water on the far end, gargling and moaning along with the waves and tides. The project was completed in May of 1986, unfortunately 6 months after the primary project fundraiser, Founding Director of the Exploratorium, Frank Oppenheimer passed away, and shortly after the Wave Organ was dedicated in his name.


Artist Andy Goldsworthy has a few pieces in San Francisco, (you won't be able to resist tracing his cracked stone leading to the main entrance at the de Young museum) but the Spire really resonates with me. It is remarkable and incredibly unexpected, all 37 Monterey Cypress trunks climbing towards the sky. Architects and engineers were both brought on for the realization of this piece, reaching an impressive 90' high in the man-made forest of the Presidio. San Francisco was once all sand dunes, so places like our beautiful Presidio and Golden Gate Park, are man intervening with nature, zero complaints about it here.

Spire, by Andy Goldsworthy is an art installation in San Francisco's Presidio forest.

Photography by Samantha Buckley

Check out this awesome video showing the construction of this seemingly precariously balanced tower of timber. Andy Goldsworthy is working with the Presidio Trust to do a series of pieces, including the equally rad Wood Line. And, if you just can't get enough, make a trip down to the Stanford Campus to find a few more there.

What are some places you're most inspired by here in San Francisco? Be sure to share your favorites with me in the comments below! Thanks for following along.



Samantha is an avid traveler and architecture addict. TRAC, the Travel Record of Architecture and Culture, came about when planning the next great adventure and she wanted to find a resource with modern and historic architecture in one place, mapped out. By day, she's living the dream, working at an architecture firm in downtown San Francisco.  

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