See San Francisco through the eyes of award-winning architect Neal J.Z. Schwartz

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November 8, 2019

How I See San Francisco: Architect Neal J.Z. Schwartz

Neal J.Z. Schwartz is an award-winning architect who has designed homes, office spaces, public plazas, and restaurants across the Bay Area.The principal of his firm, S^A| Schwartz and Architecture, Neal is also a professor of architecture and design. We asked him what he thought were the must-sees and must-dos for every visitor coming to San Francisco.

What does a typical day in San Francisco look like for you?

My dogs, Florence and Aldo, don’t ask for much except that they get their bellies rubbed for a good long time first thing in the morning. I try to go to the gym and then head downstairs to my office, which is in the first floor of my home. When I am teaching, my big outing is to head down the hill to California College of the Arts two afternoons a week. Fridays, I work from Sonoma to take care of our projects up north.

Which neighborhood, other than your own, do you like to explore?

My favorite walk with visitors these days is in the Mission. Go down 24th St. from Potrero Ave., then along Valencia St. and over to Dolores Park, back up the hill past Heath Ceramics and the Tartine Manufactory.

Where do you indulge your artistic side in San Francisco?

Luckily, my job indulges my artistic side every day. For creative de-stressors, it has to be cooking or gardening at home.

What do you love about being an architect?

I love that it doesn’t feel like a job so much as a way to look at the world. When I get bored, I just find something to design. When my friends talk about retiring, I think about how I’m just hitting my stride.

Why do you think your James Beard Award-winning design for El Pipila was so successful? How did you collaborate with the owner and chef?

The design goal for El Pipila was to reinterpret the color, light and vibe of Guanajuato, Mexico in a modern and sophisticated way without resorting to stereotypical representations of the culture. The project was successful because it was a true collaboration and passion project for everyone involved. La Cocina set the stage by ensuring our clients, Guadalupe and her daughters, had their voices heard every step of the way. We bought in our favorite lighting designers, Pritchard Peck Lighting, and amazing colleagues from CCA, Mark Fox and Angie Wang of Design is Play, to do the brand positioning and story wall graphics in the space. Finally, Cookline (formally Echo Summit) were the dedicated contractors making it all happen.


What's your favorite annual event that happens in San Francisco?

That would have to be Open Studios in the fall, particularly in Dogpatch, the Mission and Hunter’s Point.

Where and what would you choose for your last meal in San Francisco?

Well, that would have to be the chicken at Zuni Café, of course.

What should every visitor to San Francisco do at least once?

Walk the full length of Golden Gate Park. It’s a great cross section of everything San Francisco has to offer.

What’s one part of San Francisco that you wish visitors knew about?

The day Trump was elected, no one could focus at work, so I took the whole office out to lunch at this tiny spot in Dogpatch called Marcella’s Lasagneria. It is run by an Italian father and son team who make the best lasagna I’ve ever had and make you feel at home. When the going gets rough, we go to the Lasagneria!

Any final advice for visitors coming to San Francisco?

Walk or bike! I know it can be hilly, but a well-crafted walk around town is probably the best way to understand what makes the city tick. For example, just think about what you might see following the Embarcadero from Oracle Park to the Golden Gate Bridge.


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