The City by the Bay is rightly proud of its architectural heritage. Much of the hilly terrain was rebuilt practically overnight after the earthquake of 1906 and firmly established itself as one of the Victorian houses, fireproof brick buildings and a classic civic center. In recent years, however, a forest of elegant skyscrapers has joined the city’s iconic Transamerica pyramid, and the curvy silhouette of the Snohetta, added to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), has earned the city’s reputation as a location for contemporary design increases.
Here is a selection of some of the architectural styles you can find in San Francisco.
1. Queen Anne
While Victorian architecture is the most widespread type of architecture in the city, referring to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), it incorporates a variety of styles. One of the most exquisite is the Queen Anne variety. The Painted Ladies, a row of Queen Anne houses in Alamo Square from the late 19th century, have long been the celebrities of San Francisco architecture. They have extravagant colors, elaborate gingerbread cladding, bay windows and occasional towers. Other styles that fall under the Victorian umbrella: Gothic Revival (see below), Italianate (signature roof mounts), and Eastlake (many mills) are heavily represented in San Francisco.
2. Gothic revival
Inspired by medieval cathedrals and their ornate windows and towers, San Francisco’s popular Grace Cathedral is a fine example of the dramatic Gothic style (it looks centuries old, but the current building actually dates from 1927). The houses in the Gothic Revival have steep roofs and pointed arches. The 1925 Pacific Telephone Building by architect Timothy Pfleuger (aka 140 Montgomery) combines Gothic and Art Deco elements into a dazzling effect in one of San Francisco’s earliest and most beautiful skyscrapers.
3. Tudor Revival
This historical style is easy to recognize for its characteristic half-timbering; The original Tudors showed exposed wooden frames with whitewashed wicker walls. Tudor Revival was a point of contact for developer Oliver Rousseau, who turned to this for a model house in the sunset and gave him painted wood and artificial stone masonry. A much fancier version is in Presidio Heights by architect Bernard Maybeck and is one of the few homes he designed in San Francisco.
4. Shingle style
Shingle style is a reaction to the excesses of Victorian architecture and is pretty self-explanatory: the houses have simple facades covered with clapboard. The style is originally from New England, but Bay Area architects, including Ernest Coxhead and Willis Polk, took the idea and carried it with them around the turn of the century. Architectural historians cite their clapboard-clad redwood houses as part of the First Bay tradition, a forerunner of Northern California modernism.
5. Earthquake huts
These extremely humble houses were built by the city as emergency shelters after the 1906 earthquake. With cedar shingle roofs and redwood plank walls, they were packed in tight rows and painted dark green to integrate into parks and squares. When the temporary refugee camps closed, residents moved the huts to private land across the city. Of around 5,300 tiny houses only a few are left (two are on display in the Presidio). If they have hit the market in the past few years, the exorbitant amounts of money they have raised underscore the ridiculousness of the San Francisco real estate market.
6. Brick warehouse
San Francisco’s beginnings as a port and industrial center are recorded in its brick warehouses. The earliest date from the gold rush era; For example, the Trinidad Bean and Elevator Company building near the Embarcadero dates back to 1855. An office with exposed brick walls in a renovated warehouse in SoMa has been a status symbol for tech companies since the first dotcom boom in 1859 in the 1990s.
7. Fine arts
The San Francisco City Hall with its large gilded dome is characteristic of this Parisian architecture school, which was responsible for the training of many American architects in the 19th century, before the development of American schools. Inspired by classical Greek and Roman architecture, Beaux Arts buildings pull out all the stops: enjoy the curved arches and pillars of buildings like the Palace of Fine Arts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Ferry Building, and the Hibernia Bank.
8. Mission Revival
Based on a romanticized vision of early California, Mission Revival is one of the various Spanish-style revivals that gained a wide following in the early 20th century. In the Presidio, a historic military base on the northern edge of town, a barracks in Fort Scott features rounded bell gables, red-tile roofs, flat stucco walls, and a long arcade of Mission Revival. Architects also chose to work in the more elaborate Spanish colonial or Mediterranean revival style to create some of the city’s chicest homes. This style can also be found in the Castro Theater, one of Timothy Pfleuger’s most popular buildings.
9. Art Deco
Few practitioners in San Francisco had this appealing combination of modern lines and stylized decoration from the 1920s. But the city has a lovingly renovated Art Deco movie palace (the New Mission Theater with Alamo Drafthouse), a former restaurant in 200 Powell with a rhythmic parapet and green terracotta paneling, the Eng Skell warehouse in SoMa and a residence at 99 Ord with richly decorated bay windows.
Streamline Moderne buildings, which emerged from the Art Deco style in the 1930s, borrow their slender curves from the drag-reducing shapes of trains, boats, planes and automobiles. They’re relatively rare in San Francisco, but the best-known examples are the Malloch Building on Telegraph Hill and the Maritime Museum, a former WPA bathhouse built in 1939. The long white Maritime Museum is modeled after an ocean liner and has porthole windows were specially built to become a maritime museum. From 1940 the post office in the Rincon Annex in the East Cut is more reserved, but has some nice details, including stone friezes of dolphins.
11. Rousseau “Storybook” houses
In the 1930s, San Francisco-based architect and developer Oliver Rousseau revitalized the Sunset District by building homes that drew on a range of European archetypes, including Bavarian castles, French Second Reich townhouses, and Spanish mansions. The kitschy charm of these affordable and proportioned homes resonated with mid-range buyers and inspired others to follow suit. Today they are all referred to as “Rousseau” houses.
San Francisco has been the main port of entry for Chinese immigrants since the 1840s and has the oldest Chinatown in the United States. After the destruction by the 1906 earthquake, the Chinese community commissioned western architects to build a neighborhood with open elements like curved tile roofs to attract tourists. This led to interesting amalgamations such as the Sing Chong building with pagodas designed by the team of architects at Ross and Burgren.
International style (also known as minimalism) appeared in San Francisco in the 1960s over buildings such as SOM’s Alcoa Building, with its strong outer grid of seismic bracing and the pure white curves of St. Mary’s Cathedral. In home design, Eichlers were a modernist response to the need for residential buildings after World War II, with an emphasis on beam construction, the relationships between inside and outside, and simple shapes. In San Francisco, they can be found in Diamond Heights.
This architecture label, whose name is derived from the French term for raw concrete, béton brut, was created to highlight buildings that convey their use, structure and material composition in a particularly honest manner. Paffard Keatinge-Clay was accepted into the San Francisco Art Institute in Russian Hill in 1969. A good example are studio rooms that are defined by concrete bays and a sturdy roof terrace. Another example: the Glen Park BART station.
As a counterattack to the uniformity of international style, postmodern architecture can literally be a mix of classic and modern references, and the reception is similarly mixed. But Mario Botta’s SFMOMA, with its bricked rectangles surrounding a round black and white striped tower, definitely stands out from the crowd. The city also has 580 California, a skyscraper designed by famous postmodern architect Philip Johnson that has a glass mansard roof topped with faceless statues 12 feet high.
The advent of computer modeling has enabled architects to create buildings with decidedly irregular structures and explore jagged, tilting angles and organic curves. In 2005, Herzog and de Meuron’s de Young Museum ushered in the next generation of architectural creativity in San Francisco with a high-torque tower and a perforated copper facade. Renzo Piano’s remodeling of the California Academy of Sciences and Snohetta’s bulging addition to SFMOMA and Stanley Saitowitz’s 8 Octavia are newer additions.