24 new design guidelines hope to establish future look of San Francisco

The San Francisco Planning Department released a new set of guidelines last week, 24 parameters the department hopes will guide the look and feel San Francisco’s future.

Categorized into three parts—site design (S), architecture (A) and public realm (P)—the tentative guidelines are as follows:

S1. Recognize and respond to urban patterns

S2. Harmonize relationships between buildings, streets, and open spaces

S3. Recognize and enhance unique conditions

S4. Create, protect, and support view corridors

S5. Create a defined and active streetwall

S6. Organize uses to complement the public environment

S7. Integrate common open space and landscape with architecture

S8. Respect and exhibit natural systems and features architecture

A1. Express a clear organizing architectural idea

A2. Modulate buildings vertically and horizontally

A3. Harmonize building designs with neighboring scale and materials

A4. Design buildings from multiple vantage points

A5. Shape the roofs of buildings

A6. Render building facades with texture and depth

A7. Coordinate building elements

A8. Design active building fronts

A9. Employ sustainable principles and practices in building design

P1. Design public open spaces to connect with and complement the streetscape

P2. Locate and design open spaces to maximize physical comfort and visual access

P3. Express neighborhood character in open space designs

P4. Support public transportation and bicycling

P5. Design sidewalks to enhance the pedestrian experience

P6. Program public open spaces to encourage social activity, play, and rest

P7. Integrate sustainable practices into the landscape

The guidelines were developed by Planning Department staff following a look back of their existing design guidelines and design review process that started more than four years ago.

“The Planning Department began a process of identifying a broad group of stakeholders [i.e., city staff, the public, designers, and the various decision-makers] with whom to vet early drafts,” says Jeff Joslin, director of current planning with the Planning Department. “That resulted in draft guidelines that were more widely distributed, and led to a substantial review and enhancement effort involving numerous neighborhood associations and interested individuals over the past two years. The recently released draft incorporates that feedback.”

As the city continues to grow, both physically and financially, expectations are high for San Francisco’s new look, from skyline to street level.

“How those expectations are communicated, and in what form, has been uneven,” notes Joslin, adding, “Because there is no clear structure for establishing and applying guidelines, discussion around design matters has often been couched in common sense principles, rather than within defined topics and goals that can be specifically invoked.”

The new guidelines, when implemented, should allow for better consistency in how projects will be developed, reviewed, and discussed. Ideally, this will allow for more bold designs while filtering out less intriguing work.

“Projects will receive clearer direction, and discussions about design will focus on these well-defined principles while allowing sufficient flexibility to ensure projects can adapt to evolving design approaches and collective expectations,” says Joslin.

When asked if these new parameters could hinder critical vertical growth in San Francisco, Joslin explained, “Quite the opposite.”

He adds: “The primary goal here is to improve the predictability and consistency in the review of design qualities of the projects. This is a goal all development stakeholders most desire—whether they be project sponsors, the public, or implementers. Contributing to the clarity and certainty of future projects will both encourage development, and improve the efficiency of review. That efficiency will translate directly into bringing down project costs, while adding design quality.”

The Planning Commission will hear an informal presentation on January 11. Until then, two opportunities for input about the guidelines have been set for December 12 and another on January 3. More info can found at UDG.