North by North West
Wellington director John Melhuish recently visited the North West Coast of the US, soaking up the impressive built environments of San Francisco and Portland, as well as the historic town of Astoria. He shares just a few of his favourite SF structures…
SFMOMA: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Advance booking was required to secure our visit to SFMOMA, recently reopened with a stunning new addition by Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta. Clad in polymer panels, the new wing is meant to evoke the waters of the San Francisco bay. The original gallery was opened in 1995 and designed by Mario Botta and I was overwhelmed by the quality and expertise inherent in both sections of the building—and hugely envious that our own civic leaders place such little value on quality architecture. While the exterior was impressive, with a stunning terrace for cafes and views, the gallery spaces were also dynamic—light-filled and spacious (and unlike other large public galleries, the booking system allowed for a less crowded and relaxing visual arts experience).
V.C. Morris Gift Store by Frank Lloyd Wright
You’d walk straight past San Francisco’s only Frank Lloyd Wright building if you didn’t know it was there. Originally designed in 1948 as the V.C. Morris Gift Store, the building later became the Xanadu Gallery. On peering in the window, we could make out the building’s famous spiral ramp, which came about many years prior to Wright’s iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York. A passerby stopped to ask my son, “I bet you don’t know who designed this building”. Billy replied, ““Frank Lloyd Wright”. A proud moment.
Golden Gate Bridge
The sun appeared only briefly during our bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge but even in the fog and a stream of tourists, this landmark bridge, opened in 1937 and designed by ‘engineer and poet’ Joseph Strauss, was wonderful.
Food Truck and Burger Joint, The Mission District
Named for the Spanish missionaries who settled here, and San Francisco’s oldest standing building, the Mission San Francisco de Asís or Mission Dolores, the Mission District is now a shabby-chic mix of upmarket bars, restaurants and hipster coffee shops alongside authentic taco joints, diners and seedy clubs. We passed both this upmarket food truck and old-school burger joint on our walk each day.
Encapsulating the ‘slap in the face contrasts’ that are modern America, in the Mission District the homeless push their worldly possessions in overflowing shopping trollies (or seek shelter in parked-up boats and tents on traffic islands), while we experienced gourmet delis, gelato bars and the city’s picture-postcard Victorian mansions.