The campus of the San Francisco Art Institute in Russian Hill was designed in the 1920s by Bakewell and Brown, architects of the City Hall and the Coit Tower.
Later in 1969, Paffard Keatinge-Clay, who had worked in Le Corbusier’s atelier in 1948, designed its addition. The program consists of additional art studios, classrooms, faculty and administrative offices, an auditorium, gallery spaces, and a cafeteria, among other programs. Except for the roof terrace (where the auditorium, cafe, and gallery spaces are located), the addition sits below the existing complex’s main level due to the abrupt change in topography.
The structure resembles the Swiss-French master’s Carpenter Center at Harvard, where béton brut, ramps, light canons, and brise soleils are integral elements of the composition.
However, in comparison to its East Coast precedent, one could argue that there are far less poetic licenses being present at the Institute. For example, at the Carpenter, the ramp is employed for the sole purpose of producing an architectural promenade. In other words [granting that the ramp at the Carpenter is, in fact, one of the leading architectural elements offering unobstructed views of the building’s interior spaces; art galleries and studios] the ramp seems quite a gratuitous way to provide a shortcut through the structure and give access to a secondary entrance and ancillary programs.
Nevertheless, the secondary nature of the entrance, almost to justify the ramp’s need, stresses its excessiveness. In contrast, the ramp at the Art Institute not only stitches the interior spaces of the addition with the existing structure but also serves as a bridge that safeguards the abrupt change in topography.
Furthermore, at the Carpenter, the roof terrace or fifth façade is enjoyed solely by a private apartment for visiting faculty/artists. At Keatinge-Clay’s addition, the toit-jardín is –in contrast — the protagonist space. In true emulation of Le Corbusier’s ideas, the roof terrace at the Art Institute becomes a public square, a gathering space where multiple activities take place.
The main space of the terrace (represented on the last sketch and axonometric above) is enclosed on three sides: the main auditorium, an indoor and outdoor gallery space, and the cafeteria. In contrast to the enclosed nature of the existing courtyard, the roof terrace of the additional frame panoramic views of the city as it becomes the hierarchical space of the project.
Also, the roofs over the external gallery, cafe, and auditorium become accessible terraces and not only provide additional vantage points of the city but also allow for a diverse array of activities to occur simultaneously.