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September 18, 2014

How I See San Francisco: Mark Cavagnero, Architect

Mark Cavagnero, FAIA, began his professional career in the New York office of Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates. In 1989, he co-founded Barnes and Cavagnero in San Francisco, later renamed to Mark Cavagnero Associates in 1993.

Mark’s notable project experience has garnered more than 75 awards from local, state, national and international architectural organizations. Most recently, the firm was recognized with the AIA California Council Firm Award. Notable projects include the renovation and expansion of the historic Legion of Honor and the Oakland Museum of California; the ODC Theater Center in San Francisco, the Moscone Center Expansion (with SOM), and the new SFJAZZ Center.

How I See SF – The Architect

What person, place or thing best captures the essence of San Francisco?

I think it's a walk through Jackson Square on a breezy weeknight. The old buildings speak to the era of shipping and sailors, gold and dreams. Tucked away within its alleys and quiet streets are interesting bars and restaurants. Yet its most salient grace is the quiet and sense of being alone, just blocks from the hustle-bustle of downtown. Whenever I am there, I feel like I know why San Francisco has always had a magic that attracted dreamers.

What’s something every visitor should do?

Every visitor should walk through North Beach and climb the steps of Telegraph Hill, ending in the magnificent setting of Coit Tower. The views are spectacular. After enjoying the stunning setting of San Francisco and the Bay, one can walk down the garden steps to the north waterfront and enjoy lunch or a cocktail before dinner. And, of course, walk by our offices (1045 Sansome St.).

What's one of your favorite areas in San Francisco?

Pacific Heights has always been a favorite of mine. The parks are stunning, upper Fillmore is great fun and the homes are beautiful, especially at night. A walk down a few steep blocks brings one to Cow Hollow and Union Street, bursting with people and places to go. Walking a few blocks west brings one into Presidio Heights and its old world charm. Walking to the south brings one to the newly invigorated Fillmore District and two of my favorites, Yoshi's Jazz Club and the Kabuki Cinema complex. It's a great place to see how San Franciscans live and enjoy their city.

Last building standing? If you were to wake up one morning and only one post-1970 high rise of the 500-plus that exist remained, what would be your pick?

The Transamerica tower would be my preferred high rise to remain.

Why that one?

It has become such an icon for the city and its skyline. It suggests a different way of thinking, a unique attitude and a special presence. These are all feelings that San Francisco evokes for those of us who live here. Although I don't find it beautiful, it says "home" whenever I fly back from a trip and peer out the jet window.

On the other end of the spectrum, what’s your favorite historic building?

I was the architect for the renovation and addition to the California Palace of Legion of Honor Museum, so I feel most personally attached to it. It has a wonderful courtyard and gorgeous galleries, resplendent with soft daylight filtering through huge glass ceilings.  The view from the Court of Honor looking back across the ocean and the city is magnificent.

Is there an architectural gem in our crown that shouldn’t be missed?

The California Academy of Sciences is a wonderful building on every tourist's list. It is beautiful and full of energy for people of all ages. Just going there brings you into Golden Gate Park, an enormously popular urban park designed by Frederic Law Olmstead a hundred years ago. On a neighborhood level, I love our Sava Pool Center on 19th Avenue near the wonderful Stern Grove. The building took 12 years to accomplish and was the focus of the neighborhood's effort longer than that. When we were hired to design it, the city didn't even have the money for it, but the will was so strong it eventually was built. It stands to me as a testament to the power of community. Every time I walk into the great, light-filled natatorium, I think of the community leaders spending night after night pressing for their children to have a high quality venue.

The SFJAZZ Center opened in 2013. Tell us a bit more about this new addition to Hayes Valley and what’s in store for audiences.

The new SFJAZZ Center is designed to be both a destination for international travelers seeking the world's finest jazz music, a neighborhood center and a community meeting place. The spaces are tight and intimate; the vibe is urban. Everything about the design is open to the street, inviting the public to come in and experience the performances, the food, the drinks, the shop and the art. The great auditorium is a very different kind of place to hear music. It is steeply raked and asymmetric, allowing for very different experiences each time one goes. Similarly, there are seats on the sides and even behind the performers, so audience members can see the musicians play in a variety of ways. The room is designed for fabulous acoustic quality live music, akin to a great concert hall; yet, the space is intimate and small in its presence, despite seating 700 people. In short, it is designed with nothing down the middle. Everything is at the edge— destination quality and neighborhood feel, world-class musicians and emerging local talent playing in the glassed-in corner ensemble room; great food and drink that varies by season; a completely open and glassy public realm with a totally music-focused great hall.

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