John King just keeps getting better and better. In his second Cityscapes volume, published by local treasure Heyday Books, he classifies fifty notable San Francisco buildings and spaces under the sobriquets of Towers, Connection, Clues and Waterfront. This builds on Volume 1’s Icons, Styles and Masters, Landscape, and Change (Cityscapes , San Francisco and Its Buildings, 2011). Another couple of volumes and we will have the complete ‘how to read a city.’
Unlike the genre “guidebook”, Cityscapes 2 is not just fifty individual vignettes, but adds up to a coherent story of our overall designed environment and some of the buildings that make San Francisco special. I say buildings a little loosely, because in addition to strictly buildings, this list includes pieces of raw infrastructure, sculptures, and open spaces. Some are new (Lands End Outlook), some are old (Fort Point), some are vessels for ephemeral activity (Crissy Field). Some like Coit Tower we’ve seen thousands of times. Others we may have walked by a thousand times but never seen.
The latest SPUR Urbanist (September, 2015) celebrates “Walking in San Francisco” and obviously great minds think alike. When he’s not busy writing as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Urban Design Critic, John King obviously walks a lot in San Francisco, because it’s only on foot that one can explore and discover the panoply of details that makes up San Francisco and “read” their hidden stories.
Taken together, these walks are filled with the serendipitous experiences that make San Francisco such a rich delight…and as he describes one example, “happenstance no planner would allow today.” No college class in architecture, urban design, or historic preservation would countenance the flibbertigibbetry that is San Francisco. After all, neighborhood associations exist to be sure no such delights are allowed.
The cover photo of the book celebrates the di Suvero sculptures that brilliantly graced Crissy Field for a year, thanks to SFMOMA’s temporary closing. I for one still miss seeing them with their brash counterpoint against the Golden Gate Bridge in one direction and the hills and downtown in the other. This despite the fact that some of the self-appointed guardians of what is “proper art” and “proper history” had a collective coronary at such an exiting exhibition.
Thanks to the Chronicle for all the column real estate John King is given, to push and prod us to see and think. I just hope this little book, like its predecessor, gets the wide circulation it deserves, to open all of our eyes to the myriad ways delight can be accomplished, and perhaps nudge us all to make sure add even more both planned and unplanned enchantment as the city develops and grows.