In many ways, the purest and most potent buildings are the ones that never came to pass: the concept that shows the desire of the moment and, in turn, shines a light on the culture in which it was born. That's the moment being explored from a variety of perspectives in Unbuilt San Francisco: Ambition and Imagination.
At its most basic, the exhibition is a vivid history lesson, showing viewers the shadow city and phantom skyline that never came to be, for better and for worse. In the process, we explore why a building does not take brick-and-mortar form, from economic hubris to community resistance, and how an unrealized structure can shape what follows. One of the most fascinating designs in the show is a 1969 plan to fill the Sutro Bath ruins with condominiums -- exactly the sort of proposal that spurred the "green" activism of the era and helped spawn the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Co-curated by design critic John King and EDA Curator Waverly Lowell, the exhibition is also intended to engage the students who will make up an important part of the visitors to the gallery. A section on "First Takes" explores the early incarnations of buildings that do exist, a way of exploring the passage from ideal to incarnation. "Rhetorical Unbuilt" looks at the other extreme of architecture -- plans meant to put new ideas before the public, stir debate and prod us to consider other ways of living in an age that faces environmental and societal pressures we could not have considered a century ago.