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The city of San Francisco is a bustling hub of global finance and an eclectic mix of modern architecture and famous landmarks. The area of San Francisco in which the site is located is referred to as South Market, or the SoMa. The SoMa contains many smaller parks and sub-neighborhoods, and is well known for its unique history. The SoMa began as a hub for warehouses and light industry, creating a population of working-class Americans. After some mid-20th century redevelopments, the SoMa became a hub for museums and performance spaces. Today, the area of South Market maintains evidence of both of these major eras, populated with warehouses and nightclubs alike, which creates a rich sense of place for development. The site itself is located on the corner of 4th and Townsend Streets which, as it is a street corner, presents an interesting amount of identity and presence. Surrounded mostly by middle class retail, residential hotels, and warehouses, the site presents a diverse stretch of structures. Directly adjacent to the site is the San Francisco Caltran. The Caltran is a major regional transit hub for the San Francisco Peninsula and the Santa Clara Valley, linking the site to the broader view of San Francisco.



The structure will be an Economic Assistance Center. It will become a place for the local homeless and underprivileged population of San Francisco to receive counseling, education and career placement services. It will become a place at the service of the community. Intangibly, however, the structure will become a beacon of hope for the area and a sign of growth. In order to be successful, it must welcome visitors in and become a hub for self-fullfillment and renewal. It must provide an adequate space to allow visitors to learn new trades, get back on their feet, and feel safe. It must provide an overall inspirational undertone as it transitions visitors into the working world.


• Counseling • Education • Career Placement


• Growth • Renewal • Life



fig. 1

Big Idea: • Vegetative Facade provides metaphor for growth, hope • Facade grows assorted fruits and vegetables • Produce can be harvested, sold on street level for profit

1. What is the overall organization of the design?

The design is organized around a central programmatic core. This is where the heart of the functions of the economic center takes place. Surrounding the core on three sides is the green screen and trellis work (see Fig. 2). The fourth side, pointed directly northeast, is the service core--where all support spaces are located, including stairwells, elevators, bathrooms, and janitorial closets. The structure is organized this way to allow for maximum allowance of sunlight onto the green screen as well as presenting an interesting and intriguing street presence for the street corner. The green screen surrounds the programmatic core so as to provide dynamic shading for the interior spaces.

2. What is the structural system?

The Economic Assistance Center uses a combination of two structural systems (see Fig. 3) to resist the seismic displacement expected for San Francisco. The service core is constructed with concrete shear walls to provide a structural backbone while reinforced concrete columns provide the rest of the structure. These columns are utilized so as to provide open floor plans to allow natural light to penetrate as deep as possible into the center of the structure.

3. How does the building address the street corner?

The interior floor plans on both the Ground and Second floor do not extend to the edge of the buildable area, therefore they create a two story height exterior space (see Fig. 1). This covered exterior space provides a social street corner where visitors can sit at small tables and order coffee, chat with friends, or shop at the produce market. This social atmosphere is also beckoning and welcoming for potential patrons to come inside and utilize the building for what it has to offer. Directly across the street corner from the Economic Center is the San Francisco Caltran station (Fig. 4) so as to tie the structure into the fabric of the city.

fig. 2

fig. 3

Main Organization Green Screen // Program // Service

Reinforced Concrete Structure Columns and Cross Bracing

Street Corner Context fig. 4



fig. 5

Meeting Room on 4th Floor

Primary Reasons: • • • •

Symbolic of Growth Natural Lighting Horticulture Identity

The identity of the Economic Center is ruled by the exterior green facade. The facade is used for many purposes spanning logical and psychological reasons. On a human level, the facade presents an idea of growth, life, and renewal. It is bright and welcoming. From a logical standpoint, however, the living wall performs as a dynamic shading device. During the winter when the leaves on the vines are thinner, more light is able to penetrate and warm the interior spaces (see Fig. 6). During the summer when the leaves on the vines are thicker, more of the sun is blocked and therefore does not allow as much solar gain, keeping the building from overheating (see Fig. 7). This also allows for a multitude of different vegetables and fruits to be grown. Potentially, some of the classes taught in the Economic Assistance Center could be about proper horticulture techniques, so that visitors could learn how to properly harvest the produce. They in turn would also have a chance to sell the produce on the ground level to passersby as a form of social farmers market. The way in which the structure is built with three different facades each with trelliswork, allows different produce to be grown on different facades and in different locations depending on the amount of sunlight that specific area gets throughout the day. This quality allows a greater multitude of produce to be grown.

fig. 6

fig. 7

Winter Daylighting

Summer Daylighting

Produce: • • • • • • • • •

oranges peppers kiwi strawberries grapes cherries blueberries tomatoes raspberries



fig. 8

fig. 9

fig. 10

The vegetative facade is supplied with water through a rainwater collecting pool and a series of water walls. The roof garden (see Fig. 8) collects rainwater year round. For every inch of rain the site receives, the collecting pool can retain almost 2,000 gallons of water. That water remains in the reflecting pool until it spills out over one of two spillways. These spillways create water walls that run along the exterior glass facade and collect at each landing into a small basin (see Fig. 8, 9). Here, volunteers can scoop out the necessary water and use it to water the plants. Water that is not used in the basin then spills out over the spillway and continues down to the next landing where the process will begin again, all the way until the ground level where the water walls terminate into two reflecting pools.



The Economic Assistance Center of San Francisco will become a social hub of hope and renewal. The homeless and underprivileged population will be able to use the building to fulfill dreams, become educated, receive any necessary counseling, and get help in career placement. The center will serve as a beacon of hope.


The Economic Assistance Center | San Francisco  

A Multimodal Argument written by Will Leonard to discuss his architectural design decisions

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