Stanley Saitowitz, an architect whose significant star power extends beyond his Bay Area home, is not mincing words when it comes to our city's culture of what he might but didn't quite call architectural NIMBYism.
The Chronicle's architecture and urban design writer John King caught wind of some cutting remarks made by Saitowitz, whose recognizable buildings in San Francisco include the above 8 Octavia and the Congregation Beth Sholom synagogue. The grievances were aired not on Twitter or, as King jokes, over too many wines, but in a classier form: A $65 architectural monograph — Building Community: New Apartment Architecture by Michael Webb. It's a smooth burn.
“The bureaucracy is obstructive, and committee-type negotiations tend to make the buildings worse, not better.” Saitowitz is quoted as having said. Oof. What's that old chestnut about a horse designed by a committee? Oh right, it's a camel. Or is it an elephant.
“Dealing with the city Planning Department, which doesn’t understand architecture, is a very slow process... We have a lot of trouble with the preservationist spirit in that department, now that almost every district of San Francisco is considered historic and every new building has to comply with its character. We firmly believe in respecting scale; Planning wants textbook replicas.”
King caught up with Saitowitz, whom the critic characterizes as "the rare architect whose work wins wide acclaim, yet embraces the challenge of creating distinctive urban housing at all scales." The book's author, Webb, praises Saitowitz, too: "No other architect has so successfully abstracted the DNA of San Francisco," Webb asserts.
Although Saitowitz tells King that Webb wasn't taking much in the way of notes during their conversation — the wording could be off — he doesn't object to the sentiment. “If we were looking around San Francisco and seeing all these wonderful buildings that result from the process, then I wouldn’t complain,” Saitowitz told King. “But we don’t.”
King followed up with the city's top planner, John Rahaim, for a rebuttal. “Most of Stanley’s buildings have been built pretty much as he proposed them to staff. To say otherwise is ridiculous," Rahaim claims. "And we’re not asking for ‘textbook replicas.’ Our guidelines make it clear we want architecture of our time.”
Related: Design Revealed For New Stanley Saitowitz Apartments On Polk