Unearthing the 'Secret City'

S.F’s annual Architecture + the City festival fills September with tours, films, exhibitions
Fridays on the Homefront
Among the numerous films showing at this month’s Architecture + the City is
‘Getting Frank Gehry’ (above), a one-hour documentary that follows the great architect during the design and construction of his ‘Treehouse Project,’ a radical design inside and out, in downtown Sydney, Australia. Four key phases of creativity, epitomized by four great buildings (The Gehry House, The Vitra Museum, The Guggenheim Bilbao and MIT’s Stata Centre), chart the evolution of ideas over a lifetime of controversy.
Fridays on the Homefront
Fridays on the Homefront
Included in the festival home tours is the 110-year-old S.F.
cottages at 1338 Filbert Street that were recently restored. Before and after shots pictured here. New photo: Andres Gonzalez; both courtesy Buttrick Projects Architecture + Design. 

After 13 years of exposing lesser-known lights of San Francisco, the 2017 edition of the annual Architecture + the City festival, which kicks off September 1, has a theme that gets right to the point.

"San Francisco is an actual treasure trove of design- and architecture-based secrets that many of us never may experience without the proper guide," says Jennifer Jones, executive director of the Center for Architecture + Design and the local chapter of American Institute of Architects, in a press release on the month-long festival.

So 'Secret City' it is, a fitting theme for the 14th annual series of tours, films, exhibits, and presentations located in a wide variety of venues. Some events are free, some have very limited capacity, and most cost $15 for AIA members or $25 for non-members.

Annabelle Udo-O'Malley, manager of public programs for the two aforementioned festival co-sponsors, was only too happy to reveal numerous secrets about Baghdad by the Bay.

"It's a very interesting story," she said of a set of 110-year-old cottages at 1338 Filbert Street that have recently been subject of a nine-year restoration. Project architects Jerome Buttrick and Ivor Brown will lead a tour of the four cottages September 8, telling a tale that Udo-O'Malley promises is  "very San Francisco."

"Despite their unusually understated nature," says the festival literature about the cottages, "they collectively speak assertively to the merits of reusing and rehabilitating overlooked and underused resources."

The festival is bookended by an opening night party September 1 at swissnex and the San Francisco Living tour of five outstanding homes on September 30.

Several of the city's other 'secrets' are explored in the Secret City Exhibition, on display through November 17 at the headquarters of the festival cosponsors.

"We have some really good works here," Udo-O'Malley said of the exhibition, citing as one example a photo essay of the changing face of the Bayview-Hunters Point area by Henrik Kam. "He has a really interesting exhibit. He calls it 'Ballpark to Ballpark.'"

The festival's Wednesday film series has always included some fascinating documentaries about architecture, and 2017 is no exception. Of particular interest to fans of modernism will be 'Getting Frank Gehry,' which reviews the life's work of a man Vanity Fair magazine has called "the most important architect of our age." It screens at the film series kickoff party September 6 at Cambria Gallery, 1045 Bryant St.

Cambria Gallery is also the site of a forum featuring the architects of the five properties on the San Francisco Living Home Tour. The Architects Forum, titled 'Private Lives of Private Spaces,' is scheduled at 8 p.m. September 28 at the gallery and will feature Kenneth Caldwell moderating Malcolm Davis, Andrew Dunbar, Anne Fougeron, Luke Ogrydziak, and Cass Calder Smith.