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PERSPECTIVE ITS SEDATE FORMALISM DENIES THE CITY'S RICH URBAN CONTEXT Rick LeBrasseur, ASLA, San Francisco nion Square, the unofficial center of San Francisco, is surrounded by one of the world’s premier shopping districts and fashion hubs. It was founded as a com- mons during the Civil War (pro-Union rallies gave it its name) and was remade into a picturesque “urban escape” during the late 1800s and then, during the mid-twentieth century, into a strolling garden that covered the world’s first underground, multilevel parking garage. The latest redesign, which attempted to be fashionable and trendy, does not match the urban energy of the square’s surroundings. The design is benign, but cold and heartless. Its sedate formalism denies the influence of Sar Francisco's rich urban palette. The materials seem to have been chosen for their trendiness, not their enduring appeal. The tan-and-green Plazas and shiny granite already seem out of style. There is no weaving together of diverse elements—just a dis- passionate, formal gesture that creates a homogeneous qua wunins repun. The Grand Prize-winning entry in the design competition for the space, by a team led by the late Rose Mendez, was far more elegant and creative—a simple, unfolding design reminiscent of origami. Unfortunately, the de- sign could not gain the jury’s full approval for implementation. The design that was construct- ed meets the grading and circu- latory challenges extremely well, but the Union Square Association missed a rare oppor- tunity to create a truly remark- able space. Though the plaza Is still heav- ily used as a resting spot and lunchtime seating area, it lacks excitement. I do not believe the scheduled improvements of movable chairs or a central wa- ter feature will solve this prob- lem, Not even the art shows and infrequent entertainment provide the stimulation this space deserves. Much like the ever-fickle fashion industry that sur- rounds Union Square, this plaza will one day again re- ceive a cosmetic facelift. Next time, let’s hope the powers that be will look beyond the denatured landscape of corporatism toward a solution that acknowledges the excitement of urban living.

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