A philosopher, a thinker, a literate. Andrew Dunbar, principal and founding partner of INTERSTICE Architects, a local architecture firm specialized in landscape architecture, urban design and visual art, has a clear vision of what San Francisco should do to improve people lives. Investing in the street, try to transform the city in a place where pedestrians have more power than cars. An utopia or a mission that he is willing to pursue in order to improve the quality of citizens lifestyle. He is doing it already. Just look at some of his most popular projects, the Sf Botanical Garden Pathways, the Sunset Parklet, the Kaiser Special Medical Office courtyard and the lower Polk alleyways, to name a few. Minna Street DREAM:shop is one of his most innovative work he created with the collaboration of his restless team. The project was honored with the prestigious 2016 Kirby Ward Fitzpatrick Award for excellence in Architectural Design. The building is a minimalist multifunctional space for events, all kind of workshops and laboratory located in Mission District.
We met Andrew Dunbar at his office in the Tenderloin.
D: How did the local design and architecture change in the last five to ten years?
AD: The city is becoming very expensive. There are more design and architecture firms that are moving to the city and there is also a more International interest in San Francisco because of the economic prosperity. These changes are affecting mainly smaller practices. Big companies have more opportunities to establish connections to people and to resources than smaller studios. Well-known firms are supported by an array of subsidiaries, so if they fail the impact on the business is not going to be so catastrophic as could be on the smaller ones. This is an important shift that is influencing the democracy of the city and the ability for small companies to survive.
D: How is technology affecting the concept of design and architecture, the development of a product or a building?
AD: Technology is changing completely the way in which we communicate with clients, within a working space and how we work. At Interstice Architects, for instance, we don’t send drawings to clients anymore. We send them files with 3D images and they can see and experience the project. We use Virtual Reality to give to people the feeling of what they are going to receive from us. With VR we allow them to dig into the project, as we do, and to explore all the possibilities, as we also do. Moreover, technology is changing the way in which we work. It brings more people on the table, it simplifies the collaboration and it modifies the expectations. Although, clients forget sometimes that, despite the advancement and the speed of technology, it takes time to build a house. In that sense technology removed the appreciation for the process, for the action of building something and the ability to wait.
D: What are your favorite design pieces and architecture buildings in the Bay Area?
AD: In San Francisco we have a lot of great buildings. The California Academy of Science, for instance, which is all about openness, the De Young Museum which is, instead, more about secrecy because of the collections it contains inside. The SFMOMA which is a deep dialogue between the old building and the new one. The old one is rational, logic, structured, the new one is fluid, liquid, smooth, mysterious. These two spaces have found an interesting way to coexist in one location.
D: And those you don’t like?
AD: In general I believe that if a building explores an idea it will always be successful, if it doesn’t, it is probably going to be a failure. Besides the good and the bad, I believe that San Francisco has to find new ways to improve the street, to make pedestrians safer and happier, to expand the way in which people live the roadways. It is one of the most dense city in the country, how can we transform San Francisco in a city for pedestrians? Regarding architecture projects, I have to say that even though I like the Federal Building, I think that the plaza in front of it, It is a lost opportunity. That space outside should be a place where people can sit and enjoy their lunch, the view, it should be more livable. The Federal Building is a public piece of United States why shouldn't that plaza be as beautiful and useful as the building is?
D: In your opinion who are the new and talented designers and architects in the Bay Area?
AD: San Francisco has many talents. Mark Jensen, Aidlin and Darling just to name a few. Designers have always to renew themselves because we face continuously new challenges according to the change of the societies, the requests of a client or the problems of a particular projects. In that sense design keeps you childlike.
D: What do you think about housing affordability? Is there a solution to solve this problem?
AD: It is a huge problem and we cannot solve it in the way in which we have done so far. This is a city of transition and people tend to live here for 3 years, that’s the average, then they move somewhere else. To be more affordable the wealth in the whole city has to be much more well distributed. We need to find new path to be funded, to be more responsible and take the ownership of what there is in front of our door. That can be a good change, even in terms of affordability.
D: What are your thoughts on San Francisco’s and the Bay Area future?
AD: San Francisco is an interest place because there is an urge of modernism and, at the same time, there is an attachment to the old Victorian style. On one hand, there is a need for diversity, innovation, on the other hand, there is a demand for keeping the tradition alive. Besides this duality, I believe that San Francisco will be the place where people are going to test the changes that will affect the whole country.
D: What are you going to do to leave a positive mark on the city?
AD: We have done interesting landscape and urban architecture projects that are already having an impact on the city like the Sf Botanical Garden Pathways, the Sunset parklet, the 826 Valencia Tenderloin Center. Now we are working on a Nano Condo to fulfill the needs of those family that cannot afford to live in San Francisco but that they don’t want to move out of the city.