American Institute of Architects, San Francisco Chapter Featured Events

Announcing the Unbuilt San Francisco Exhibition

Posted on April 1, 2013

A Collaborative Exhibition On View August – November

“Today's urban landscape is shaped in profound ways by the buildings that never came to life, the plans that fell short. They show us how people defined the future, and why those visions in turn sparked resistance. It's a parallel history of San Francisco and the Bay Area, for better and for worse.”
– John King, Urban Design Critic, San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (April 1, 2013) - AIA San Francisco, Center for Architecture + Design, Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley, California Historical Society, SPUR and the San Francisco Public Library are pleased to present Unbuilt San Francisco, a collaborative exhibition on view August – November, 2013.

If San Franciscans like to describe their city as “49 square miles surrounded by reality," the visionary ideas that were too grandiose for even San Franciscans to consider remain some of the most fantastic designs for any city in the world. Imagine the Ferry Building surrounded by office towers, a grand casino on Alcatraz, the city wrapped in freeways and a subdivision covering flattened hills north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

This ambitious five-venue exhibition and its accompanying programs will provide San Franciscans and Bay Area residents with an opportunity to confront visions for the region that never came to pass. Images include early designs for San Francisco City Hall and other landmarks, neighborhood-scaled plans that were blocked by community activists, and provocative works by architects prodding society to take on challenges such as sea level rise.

Each of the five institutions will display treasures from archival collections, architecture firms and private architectural collections, and host companion programming, panel discussions and lectures.

Venue locations, exhibition dates, gallery hours and special programs are listed below.


Venues // Exhibition Dates // Gallery Hours

AIA San Francisco / Center for Architecture + Design
130 Sutter Street, Suite 600, San Francisco | Exhibition open August 15 – October 25 | Monday - Friday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm | Free admission

Unbuilt San Francisco will be the theme of the 10th anniversary celebration of the Architecture and the City festival. The focus of the exhibition will be On the Boards: ambitious ideas for a new stadium on the waterfront, renovations of Fort Mason and the new Transbay Terminal Center. The exhibition will also include grand visions that were never built, including an original sketch by William Perreira of a cylinder-shaped Transamerica building.

California Historical Society / SPUR

CHS: 678 Mission Street, San Francisco | Exhibition open September 6 – December 29 | Tuesday - Sunday, 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm | $5 suggested donation, free for members and children

SPUR: 654 Mission Street, San Francisco | Exhibition open September 6 – December 20 | Tuesday, 11:00 am - 8:00 pm; Wednesday - Friday, 11:00 am – 5:00 pm | Free admission

SPUR and the California Historical Society will co-contribute to Unbuilt San Francisco a focus on plans and schemes at scales from the district to the region, emphasizing planning, urban design, regionalism and environmental management. The exhibition will be divided into four components and feature Taming Nature, The Dream of the Integrated Region, District Revisions and Transportation and Infrastructure.

The Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design
280 Wurster Hall, University of California, Berkeley | Exhibition open September 14 – November 8 | Wednesday - Saturday, 10:00 am - 2:00 pm | Free admission

Unbuilt San Francisco: Ambitions and Imagination, at the College of Environmental Design, will focus on buildings that never came to be, such as a residential resort on what are now the ruins of Sutro Baths, and early versions of landmarks like Coit Tower, Crissy Field and several of the city’s most acclaimed recent buildings. Another section, Rhetorical Visions, will include renderings and models that challenge viewers to imagine new ways of urban life.

San Francisco Public Library
Skylight Gallery, 6th Floor, Main Library, 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco | Exhibition open August 24 – November 27 | Monday - Thursday, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm; Friday, 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm; Saturday, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm; Sunday, 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm | Free admission

The San Francisco Public Library's San Francisco History Center will present original architectural renderings and other images which give an inkling of a city very different from the one we know today. This exhibition focuses on “what never was” in the public spaces of San Francisco. Imagine the reality of a Panhandle Parkway: Recommended Plan (1964); visualize Suggested Illuminated Water Effects of a Monument and Cascade at Twin Peaks (Bernard Maybeck, 1933); and consider a Suggested Design for Main Public Library Building (Reid Brothers, circa 1910).


Opening Reception

Unbuilt San Francisco Exhibition Opening
September 6, 5:00 - 9:00 pm
Annie Alley, between 678 and 654 Mission Street, San Francisco

SPUR and the California Historical Society will celebrate the opening of this exhibition with an opening reception from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Friday, September 6th, which will also include music, performance and art in Annie Alley, a street turned temporary pedestrian plaza.