Wednesday, June 22, 2011
The best public buildings, no matter how modest their size, accomplish two things at once. They do the job that people expect and then they go beyond expectations.
The new 2,500-square-foot clubhouse at Hayes Valley Playground in San Francisco succeeds on both counts.
Yes, there is a recreation room and meeting space, accessible bathrooms and an office for the park staff. But what catches the eye is the linear collage of right-angled forms clad in three shades of metallic blue.
In a residential setting where the tone is set by Victoriana, a boxy bolt of modernism is bound to stand out. It also sends a message. Common ground for families and youth deserves to be celebrated, and architecture can embody the free spirit of play.
“We kept hearing people saying they wanted something bright and colorful and inviting,” says Bryan Shiles of the architecture firm WRNS. “In this city, that was really refreshing.”
The clubhouse is part of a $3.9 million transformation of the public playground at the corner of Hayes and Buchanan streets, uphill from the ever-more-chic Hayes Street retail scene. What’s left from before are basketball courts, two tall lampposts and one tough London plane tree; all else is new, such as the oblong play area with a soft surface so that young bones bounce rather than break.
The space reopened on June 11 after 17 months of work, and on the morning I visited, it already was part of the neighborhood scene. There were hipster moms watching toddlers clamber on low walls, and an older woman in a head scarf at an adult-size fitness station. At noon kids spilled from a bus on their way to a program at Opportunity Impact, which uses the recreation room to provide activities for neighborhood youth.
In the old playground, the clubhouse was at the Hayes-Buchanan corner, blocking easy access to grass and swings. Its replacement stands back along the playground’s alley side; the two community rooms pop up at either end like modular blue stacks, with the bar in between occupied by the restrooms and park office. The structure’s roofline extends between main rooms to shade a large porch, a welcome option on sunny days.
Those are the basics. The fun comes in such details as the blue walls assembled from panels of Trespa, a blend of resin and recycled-wood-based fibers. The roof above the porch is slit by an oculus that sends an oval spotlight skimming across the shade.
Another feature of the roof? It’s planted with drought-tolerant species. Think the fabled living roof of the California Academy of Sciences, but a lot smaller.
All this might sound costly, and indeed, the $3.9 million project is more than the city would have been able to afford on its own. But this and two other spaces in the city are being revived in a partnership between the Recreation and Park Department and the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that believes in urban health as well as open space. The design work by WRNS included a pro bono contribution as part of the 1% Program created by local advocacy group Public Architecture.
Honestly, though, it’s exactly the sort of investment that government should make, and make happen.
Hayes Valley deserves the praise it has received for community activism that replaced a freeway ramp with a landscaped boulevard. The retail strip is upscale but fiercely local.
At the same time, it’s a terrain altered by gentrification. On the east end of the playground’s block, you can tuck into a $30 veal chop at cozy Bar Jules. Directly across from the playground on Buchanan Street, the stucco townhouses are a public housing project.
This is the sociological context, and it’s more important than the architectural one. The bolt-blue clubhouse is designed to catch every child’s eye, no matter their race or class, and it does so with a smile.
Place appears on Wednesdays. E-mail John King at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page E – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Hayes Valley Playground revamp caters to children