February 12, 2011 1:52 PM   Subscribe

In November, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency accepted a bid from Kennerly Architecture and Planning for an affordable housing complex at Sixth Street and Howard. The plans for the new building (PDF) are striking, but fans of public art will notice that a few things are missing.

Brian Goggin's site-specific sculpture Defenestration was originally intended to be up for only six months. Thirteen years and three restorations later, it's become a landmark and symbol of the neighborhood. Graffiti art gallery 1AM has championed Defenestration, raising money for the most recent restoration with an exhibition of works inspired by it. Goggin and 1AM offered to help recreate Defenestration in the new building, but there's been no response thus far. Goggin has agreed to remove the furniture by December 31, 2011.

Watch clips from the day of madcap performances that accompanied Defenestration's unveiling in 1997: Part 1 Part 2

Previously: 1 2
posted by roll truck roll (17 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by rtha at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2011

I tried to keep the FPP low on editoralizing. Now, if you'll allow me, a little editorializing.

Defenestration is a symbol of the neighborhood, but it's starting to mean something different from what it meant in 1997. In 1997, it was about desperation, about people trying to build a domestic life for themselves while that domesticity kept falling away from them. Now, it's about a neighborhood that's been through hard times but is trying to build a life for itself on its own terms. It's a slow process, and it's a process that's often wrought with complexity and contradiction, but we're building a new kind of neighborhood here. Defenestration used to be about lives falling out the window into the scary street below. As that street changes, Defenestration becomes about people redrawing the line between mine and ours. It becomes about rethinking what you're willing to share with the neighbors.

To me, it seems so obvious - in a way in which maybe everyone except for city planners could understand - that the crowning achievement of this transition would be for furniture to adorn the outside of a Mercy Housing building at 6th and Howard. It would be saying, we so proud of where we've been that we refuse to give up on people.

Also: Last year I made a group in Flickr for photos of the Hugo. There are some really neat pictures in there.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:09 PM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sounds like it was a pretty amazing public art piece. You know what also sounds amazing though: replacing an abandoned hotel with affordable housing in a neighborhood that's beginning to pick of speed again. Trying to recreate temporal art for the sake of nostalgia sounds like it is approaching kitsch. Why not create something new? Also, I think its ironic to see a graffiti organization championing anything preservation related.

I'm not from San Francisco, so whatever. My impression of San Francisco form an urban/architectural perspective is that its a place of intense nimbyism and conservatism veiled under the defense of politcal liberalism. I hate to see this reinforcing my biases.
posted by tmthyrss at 2:52 PM on February 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yes, Defenestration was neat when it was an exhibit, but that building is a fucking blight. I'm not even talking about the graffiti, but the bombed out presence it has in a neighborhood...I dunno. I don't live there so maybe I shouldn't have a say, but when I rode my bike past there every day I continually wanted something to happen there. What else can you do? As public art it's not exactly vital, so I like the idea of them recreating it, or merely re-applying the two walls. Gonna be tough in SF where the developer isn't going to want to be told at all what to do.
posted by rhizome at 2:56 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wait, that didn't go up until 1997? I could've sworn i saw old clocks and bits climbing the outside of that building in 1996 when I lived there, now I'm trying to figure out if I visited Howard on my very short drive-through in 99... Was he doing something similar somewhere else in 96?
posted by dabitch at 2:58 PM on February 12, 2011

That building was awesome.
posted by loquacious at 3:13 PM on February 12, 2011

I made a gallery of the images from the redevelopment plan PDF. Because that's all anyone really wants to see, anyway.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:49 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always meant to try to sit on one of those pieces of furniture whenever I was in town. Carpe diem etc.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:05 PM on February 12, 2011

The owners are, IMO, serious tools for letting that property rot for decades, at a Prop-13 capped annual tax of under $8k, but also awesome for allowing that art project. The redevelopment plan on the other hand is so bland looking, I'm not sure who to cheer for.
posted by zippy at 4:34 PM on February 12, 2011

I will miss the defenestration, but I don't think tacking stuff onto a new building would work *unless* that building was designed around that concept from the start. Which is, sadly but totally predictably, not what happened.

I think a better new chapter might be to identify a new semi-abandonded building somewhere in the city to defenestrate.
posted by feckless at 4:45 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a pity they couldn't integrate the defenestration in a sort of Hundertwasserhaus-esque way. Then again, most of the gentrification of SF, particularly in SoMa and The Mission, has been bland and an insult to the surrounding architecture, so this is pretty much par for the course in my opinion.
posted by shoepal at 4:53 PM on February 12, 2011

Bland is what most people want to live in. There's nothing wrong with that.
posted by maryr at 10:00 PM on February 12, 2011

Bland is what most people want to live in. There's nothing wrong with that.

Most people would like many things, some of which lead to malls, flavored coffee, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
posted by zippy at 11:07 PM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Defenestration was destined to die along with the building that hosted it. Photograph it, record it, cherish it. It's a good piece of work. It's good art. Part of what makes it good is that its essence is ephemeral.

The new building should honor that in some way, ideally. That's a very difficult thing to pull off. It's like buying a kid a new goldfish when beloved Bubbles dies. No matter what, we are totally impotent, it will never actually be Bubbles.

So, instead, the new design looks ok. It could be a lot worse. Could be big box retail, right?
posted by Xoebe at 12:18 AM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

There have been many grumblings in the SF art scene over another bid to save Defenestration. Every 3 or 4 years the city gets cranky about it falling apart and Brian starts raising hackles about getting more money to shore it up. Many of us have quietly said Brian needs to let it go, and spend money on something new.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:22 AM on February 13, 2011

The new building isn't just bland, it's ugly and despite some nods to it's neighbouring buildings, it is willfully so. It also doesn't look to have been designed with any degree of understanding of the environment in which it will exist. It looks like it will be too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. There is no rainwater collection, grey water recycling or other water notable conservation measures mentioned in the design document, despite the 100 green points. Considering the 160 mile journey that most of the water in SF has to make, building a new construction without minimising the water usage seems insane.

Sticking the defenestration stuff back on the outside would improve it's appearance IMHO. It certainly can't make it look any worse!
posted by asok at 8:48 AM on February 14, 2011

The thing is, the building only has the remnants of the work. When the piece was occurring there were mechanical movements and such. It's just detritus now.
posted by rhizome at 12:54 PM on February 16, 2011

« Older The Water Has Been Sold; Next: Air. Pay up!   |   An Urban Teacher's Education Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments