2020: SF State's Space Odyssey

By Adrianne Bee

The University's recently approved master plan envisions a future campus with more green space, new housing, teaching and research facilities, improved connections to the surrounding community and a continued commitment to environmental sustainability.

A sketch of the purposed future SF State campus

San Francisco State's main campus has never been one to flaunt its good looks. While its green lawns, flowers and trees were recently recognized as the best-maintained grounds of an urban university, the campus sits somewhat isolated behind a border of buildings. Its perimeters do not call attention to themselves with readily identifiable University landmarks, save the moving ones: students streaming from Muni cars and buses.

At least that is the campus today. As for tomorrow, a new plan has been developed to transform SF State into a campus that demands to be noticed. A campus with a lively edge that is more inviting to the public, an expanded greenway, new pathways from one side to another, and new facilities to serve the needs of students, faculty, staff and visitors -- all with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.

The master plan, a recently approved vision and action plan for the physical campus through 2020, was inspired by three goals: to accommodate a growing full-time student population, to integrate recently acquired property along campus borders and to put into physical terms the academic strategic plan the University adopted in 2005 -- an ambitious plan that calls for SF State "to become the nation's preeminent public urban university."

For close to two years, a committee of faculty, staff, administrators and students collaborated with Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC/Solomon E.T.C., an award-winning firm of planners, urban designers, landscape architects and architects. Co-chaired by Leroy M. Morishita, vice president and chief financial officer for Administration and Finance, and John M. Gemello, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, the committee solicited additional input from the broader campus community and surrounding neighbors, who helped shape the document at a series of public meetings.

The plan calls for the University to raise its physical presence to the next level of eminence and provide an increasing number of students with a world-class SF State education. President Robert A. Corrigan says, "The master plan reflects our commitment to environmental sustainability, our desire to remain strongly connected to our city, region and state -- and our determination to always be a place of opportunity."


More Space for Living

In its previous master plan, completed in 1989, the University anticipated that enrollment would reach as high as 20,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students over the course of 20 to 30 years. That projection became a reality more quickly than expected. By fall 2005, SF State had nearly that many FTEs, including more freshmen than transfer students and an increase in enrollees from outside the Bay Area.

A sktech of Holloway Avenue as a future pedestrian street

Looking west on Holloway Avenue, a vision of one of SF State's future pedestrian-friendly "main streets" of the future, with bicycle lanes, tree-lined sidewalks, and street-level shops and cafes.

The shift to a younger population from a widening geographic area began to transform SF State from a predominantly commuter campus into a growing residential community. The state's continued demand for high-quality, accessible education is fueling that growth. The University projects an enrollment of 25,000 FTE students as early as fall 2014.

In recent years, the University has expanded its affordable housing offerings for its growing student body. The construction of the Towers in 1991 and the Village at Centennial Square ten years later added living space for more than 2,200 undergraduates on campus. Since then, the University has acquired more than 950 apartment units along campus borders: University Park North, formerly Stonestown Apartments; and University Park South, formerly the northernmost section of Parkmerced.

The new master plan calls for some of the University's newly acquired apartment units in these areas to be replaced over time with higher-density housing. It envisions more space for study and gathering and adds new pathways to connect residential areas to the core of campus. "College main streets," typical of many urban universities, are imagined along Holloway Avenue and Buckingham Way.

These pedestrian -- and bicyclist -- friendly thoroughfares will offer a variety of neighborhood retail services and serve as the anchors to residential areas to the north and south and to undergraduate housing to the west, helping create a more vibrant and self-sufficient residential community.


More Space for Learning

SF State Campus Planner Wendy Bloom and her colleagues were tasked with re-imagining the campus not just for the immediate future but for generations to come. Careful consideration went into the placement of each building. Facilities were clustered by like uses. Walks between academic buildings were limited to the ten-minute breaks between classes.

A sketch of the purposed pedestrian bridge on campus

View from Millenium Bridge, looking southwest across Cox Stadium toward the new Science and Ethnic Studies and Psychology complex. Thornton Hall is to the left.

The toughest task was finding a site for a new gymnasium/recreation/wellness center, which has the largest footprint. Locating this facility at Lot 25, one of the few vacant sites on campus, allowed for new academic buildings to be placed close together around the Quad in a sequence that does not require disruptive interim moves. "It's like a puzzle, you have to figure out where to put all the pieces," Bloom says.

While the plan envisions a great deal of change, it will maintain the greatest strengths of the existing campus. In the future, students will gather on the Quad as they have for more than five decades. The historic area, long framed by the J. Paul Leonard Library, Student Center and towering cypress and pine trees, will continue to serve as the symbolic heart of the campus. The master plan locates new and improved spaces for teaching and research close by this expanse of green lawn, on sites where outmoded academic buildings are slated for demolition. Initial projects for the first phase of construction through 2015 begin with the already planned expansion of the Library and include both a new Science and Clinical Sciences building, and new buildings for the colleges of Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Health and Human Services.

Perhaps the most exciting showpiece of the future campus, the new Creative Arts complex, will serve as the western gateway to the campus, at the corner of Lake Merced and Font boulevards. Made possible in part by the biggest donation in SF State history -- a $10 million gift from Manny Mashouf (B.A., '66) and Neda Mashouf (B.S., '84) -- the complex will house both academic facilities and state-of-the-art performance spaces. The acclaimed firm of Michael Maltzan Architecture, selected earlier this year to design the complex, brings a wealth of experience in creating theatres and performing and fine arts spaces with an emphasis on environmental sustainability, including University of California, Los Angeles' Billy Wilder Theater and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum.

Joining Maltzan on the project is a team of internationally renowned experts, among them: Nagata Acoustics, who contributed their expertise to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a theatre with acoustics rivaling that of the best concert halls in the world, and theatre consultants Fischer Dachs Associates, whose portfolio includes Radio City Music Hall and Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra. Landscape architects Hargreaves Associates, designers of San Francisco's Crissy Field, will help fulfill an overall master plan goal: build a more seamless bridge between the manmade and natural world as they create the surroundings for the new complex.

The Creative Arts complex is one of three semi-public-use facilities to be prominently placed at the corners of campus. A gymnasium/recreation/wellness center that will also house the Kinesiology Department is envisioned at the current site of the Lakeview Center and Corporation Yard, accessible to the public from Lake Merced Boulevard and Winston Drive. A conference center sited at the corner of 19th Avenue and a realigned Buckingham Way takes advantage of proximity to public transit and Stonestown Galleria shopping center. These buildings will not only serve the campus community but will also attract local residents and visitors with public performances, fitness classes and networking and professional development opportunities.

More Green Space

During the 1950s, pioneering architect Frank Lloyd Wright took a tour of SF State's campus. After studying the grounds, he passed along one suggestion to Professor Emeritus Ralph Putzker: "Plant ivy." If Wright were alive today to view the University's master plan, chances are he would be pleased with the addition of greenery at the edge of campus. New plantings are envisioned to soften the University's borders and create a more inviting perimeter for the surrounding community.

"The landscape itself is the most compelling visual element of campus," Bloom says. Courtyards offering space and solitude for quiet reflection and study, like those found today behind Burk Hall and the Village, are planned for new buildings. Neighboring Lake Merced will also play a role in reshaping the exterior of campus. Now separated from SF State by the busy thoroughfare of Lake Merced Boulevard, the lake was once connected to campus by a seasonal stream that flowed through the University's central valley. In the early 1940s the stream canyon was filled to create level terraces for playing fields and the stream was re-routed underground.

The master plan calls for a return to the ecological past. It highlights the valley -- now a rather hidden one running east-west through campus and containing the parking garage and playing fields -- as the central open space of campus. A surface creek will flow through this stretch of land, capturing storm-water runoff from the campus drainage basin and flowing westward through a proposed underpass/bridge beneath Lake Merced Boulevard into Lake Merced.

A sketch of purposed expanded greenery on campus

Beacons and expanded greenery create an inviting and more visible campus edge at 19th and Holloway avenues.

To restore the valley as the central open space of campus and to reduce the impact of automobile traffic on campus and its neighborhood, the master plan proposes a series of parking facilities gradually introduced at the perimeter of campus.

The master plan calls for the University to work closely with the city and Caltrans on a future 19th Avenue that includes a new pathway for bicycles and to explore adjustments to residential parking permit programs that will deter spillover parking in adjacent neighborhoods.

While the state-owned 19th Avenue is not under University jurisdiction, SF State is free to create its own network of bike pathways on campus, separate from pedestrian walkways. A further enticement to bicyclists in the master plan: expanded bike storage. As the new campus is developed, the existing Bike Barn will be replaced with a bike station on 19th Avenue. Bicyclists will enjoy full-time attended parking, bicycle repairs and rentals, an outdoor café and an Internet station.

The emphasis on public transit and bicycle commuting is one of many interrelated strategies in the master plan that focus on making environmental sustainability an integral part of daily campus life. In addition to more housing for students, more affordable housing for faculty and staff is also envisioned close to campus, including a proposed development on the site of Sutro Library on Winston Drive, which will be moved to the newly expanded J. Paul Leonard Library. Green building practices -- including natural ventilation, multiple temperature zone controls, low-flow plumbing fixtures, green roofs, high-efficiency lighting and occupancy sensors -- will redevelop the campus in a manner consistent with California State University (CSU) sustainability goals.


More Navigable Space

"There's quite a lot here. If only you could get to it." That's how the master plan's lead architect, Jim Stickley of WRT, describes one of the campus' strengths (its proximity to parks, water recreation, golfing and shopping), as well as a weakness (barriers that make it difficult to traverse across campus and to adjacent neighborhoods).

One of the greatest barriers, the extreme topographic divide between the core of campus and the newly acquired University Park North property, is overcome with the Millennium Bridge. The visionary north-south walkway links the campus and adjacent neighborhood across its central valley. Another new pathway, the Arts Allee, will run east-west, connecting the Quad to the new Creative Arts complex, while a second east-west axis, the Pacific Allee, runs diagonally through the Quad, connecting the academic core to the valley and on to Lake Merced.

The entries to new buildings are imagined as proverbial beacons in the night with tall cylindrical glazed foyers aglow with interior lighting. The campus community will see these distinct and recognizable "lanterns" at the northern corner of the Creative Arts complex and the eastern corner of the new gymnasium/recreation/wellness center. Another type of beacon, a series of lighted markers, will be placed at important entries, portals and crossings, including the main entrance to campus at 19th and Holloway avenues. These beacons will include audible signals associated with specific areas and functions to ensure that all campus users -- whether sighted or visually impaired -- can navigate throughout the campus with ease.

When the plan is fully implemented, much of the campus will be completely transformed. Several new buildings will line the Quad. New pathways and bridges will further alter the landscape. The University's century-long tradition of student-focused learning and creativity, however, will continue as the campus grows. Like the new connections across its grounds, SF State will remain a bridge in and of itself -- a bridge to opportunity.


For more information: www.sfsumasterplan.org

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