Written by Aaron Odland, PLA, Project Manager
In design, I’m always looking for ways to add layers of meaning and interest to a project. This can be elements that make a site unique or also help connect the site design to a greater context of the community or environment.
On a recent trip to San Francisco, I saw two examples of this type of approach that I thought were fun and successful. The first was a metal guardrail at the Mission Pool and Playground in the city’s Mission District. I recall years before that this barrier had been a plain chainlink fence. When the overall park space was improved back in 2012, this custom, cut metal guardrail was part of design. The fun figures and characters read not only in the vertical plane, but also as whimsical shadows on the ground. I would imagine these were plasma cut panels, and it’s likely that the work was done by a computer controlled system working from digital files.
The Exploratorium is a public learning laboratory for kids and adults that has been around in San Francisco since the 1969. In 2013 it relocated to the Embarcadero Piers 15 and 17 San Francisco’s landmark Ferry building. It’s at this location that I saw several examples of a similar cutout metal fabrication integrated into the public landscape. These installations added a layer of science onto the artistic to create visually appealing and educational elements. The first of these is a series of metal panels with electrical symbols that screens, but does not forget, the electrical transformers behind it in a service yard. On another face of the building the cladding at the exterior service doors to the restaurant kitchen is clad in panels with cut versions of four different plankton that live in the adjacent San Francisco Bay.
Having seen these elements on my trip, I came back to town and had a chance to tour the dwg. project at 111 Congress Street that is currently under construction. There’s a faceted shade structure dwg. designed, that we’re calling Nimbus, that incorporates some similar techniques that I saw on my trip. I was struck by how this structure takes the flat panel idea and moves it more into the 3D realm with how it was realized. Angles in the steel framework that support the plasma cut, pattern panels create folds in the canopy, like those in a piece of origami. I’m excited to see the complete, lit structure along with the rest of the landscape when it reopens to the public later this summer.