The Google, Facebook, Apple and Yahoo Commuter Buses have become a familiar sight along the Divisadero Street Corridor in San Francisco’s Western Addition.  The buses bring new income levels  to the Western Addition, increasing the commercial vitality as well as increasing pressure on existing housing, businesses and institutions to serve a newer, moneyed class.

Emblematic of the transformation on Divisadero is the replacement in October of a little-used local market (shown at top) by the second outpost of the incredibly popular  Bi-Rite Market — their motto:  “In our community, on our table”.  Currently successful in the gourmet ghetto of the Mission they are mid-block on 18th Street up from Guerrero Street along with the packed Tartine BakeryDelfina RestaurantPizzeria Delfina, and Bi-rite Ice Creamery.  As shoppers arrive on foot, bike and BMW, Bi-rite Market could  accurately be described as either harbinger of local food  justice or  boutique grocery. 


Along with San Francisco’s  Bank of America Building and Ghiradelli Square, the Clark Beach House in elevation above and immortalized on PG&E’s heliodon machine left, counts among the most published and recognized of the work from the office of the architect William Wilson Wurster, one time west coast darling, and educational innovator as  Dean at MIT and UC Berkeley’s re-envisioned Environmental Design Department.  Known for his serious understatement and disdain for luxury and over-designing, his work remains largely disregarded today seemingly as a result.  With the One Percent currently under attack, the possibility for a resurgence of  modesty in home design seems better than any time since the Reign of Terror. 


Strong forms and materials challenge comfort and simplicity.   Stunningly simple, heavily understated, this granite bench chills in the inhospitable snow of Yosemite Valley.

The bench is a monument to the geology of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and the gravitational forces that have scraped, scoured and shoved them for 40 million years in Yosemite Valley, in Hetch Hetchy, and as shown here, in the Emigrant Wilderness.  Harsh,  numbing, forbidding, exhilarating, the bench exhibits an elemental design logic, older than history, appropriate to a Sierra winter or home furnishings for Fred Flintstone.

Strong forms and strong materials have their powerful attractions despite their indifference to human comfort.  While comfort and simplicity remain our guiding goals,  architectural design  is not always about comfort, nor is simplicity always so simple.  An elegant goal, achieving simplicity from the myriad of materials and conditions required for modern construction is frequently a challenging and in this case weighty proposition requiring serious tools and strenuous effort. 


Could this design from the Housekeeping Campground Map in Yosemite Valley be the original inspiration for LA architect Rudolf Schindler’s radical home design on King’s Road? (See our post Sun-worshipers and Free-thinkers.)   As Schindler describes it,  the home “… fulfils the basic requirement for a camper’s shelter: a protected back, an open front, a fireplace and a roof…”( ‘A Co-operative Dwelling’ , T-Square, February 1932).

In 1921 amidst the falling oak leaves of September and October Rudolf and wife Pauline  enjoyed an idyllic few weeks in camp shelters in Yosemite Valley.  Having just terminated his employment with Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolf and Pauline planned their modern life and modern home in Los Angeles. Four independent and  utilitarian studios conjoined in a communal relationship would provide a background for work and play.  They would be joined in this experimental four-plex by housemates and friends Clyde and Marian Chace. 


A sea change occured in home design and life style in mid-century California as promoted in the work of Schindler, Neutra and the Case Study House program and popularized by Eichler planned developments and ranch style homes.  Providing modern and positive values of casual living and connection with the sun and outdoors, suburban home production flourished in an anti-urban, auto-based culture made concrete through asocial town planning.  These mid-century modern designs were sensitive to personal comfort and environment, but they were insensitive to the environment at a community and global level with sprawling development actively replacing positive neighborhood and urban pattern.

Established commuter rail lines, like the Red Car lines in LA, were ripped up for freeway right of ways promoted by the oil and auto industry.  Downtown buildings were demolished for parking lots and block-style housing projects with a misguided idea of how to re-populate urban cores. 


The classic farmhouse form of this gold rush era home can be described in a few words: a gable house wrapped by a porch.

The two shapes, gable and porch, can be described with hand gestures. The shape is simple and common, lodged in our shared memory and dreams. Its commonness confirms its comfortable familiarity and borrows from past associations with similar homes, with farms, porch swings.


The colossal spans of Parisian rail stations witness a time of technological breakthrough looking back at a historical sense of proportion and delicacy while looking forward to the new scale of the industrial age with its efficiencies of mass production and big box warehousing.  Through this temple of arrivals and departures have passed daily commuters, returning loved ones, and deported Jews.  Unable to assume a moral position on passing events–right or wrong–the station has effectively assumed a positive position on history and society, ennobling the passage of time and people without judgement of the circumstances.