Urban Reflector

Urban Reflector

Real estate development company Forest City is moving forward with a plan to build a residential and office complex on four acres around the San Francisco Chronicle building, a 1924 structure on the corner of 5th and Mission streets, where the city’s South of Market, Downtown, and Mid-Market neighborhoods intersect. The developer published an Environmental Impact Report for the plan, known as “5M,” last month, and at press time was set to present it to the San Francisco Planning Commission on November 20.

The design team for the project includes New York–based architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), SITELAB urban studio, and historic resources consultant Architectural Resources Group.

If approved, the scheme—located near the city’s Powell Street BART and MUNI stations—will contain 1.8 million square feet of development, including about 870,000 square feet of offices, 800,000 square feet of residences, 150,000 square feet of ground floor uses, and 34,000 square feet of open space. The plan would renovate two existing buildings (including the Chronicle Building and a modest brick and timber structure), build four new buildings (two office and two residential), and demolish seven existing buildings. The developer calls the buildings being torn down historically insignificant, including warehouses and a connector structure from the Chronicle.

The community process for the project has been ongoing since 2009. The developers have called for diverse and “sculpted, carved buildings” to add visual interest, a diverse mix of uses, and a pedestrian experience enhanced by active storefronts and art walls.

“We knew this part of the city would fail miserably if we tried to make each of the buildings look like they were all the same,” said KPF principal Trent Tesch, who stressed architecture “referencing the character and nature of the existing site.” The buildings reflect the diversity of architectural and planning styles that are characteristic of the area.


One of the new office buildings in the works has a rust-colored, metal mesh facade, the other is made of glass, faced partly with curving white metallic fins and inset red ones. The tallest residential tower, at 470 feet, is broken into two parts—one clad in reddish reclaimed brick and the other with an expressed concrete frame that undulates vertically and horizontally.

“We had an interest in creating design that was not just the glassy tall buildings that you see in the financial district,” said Forest City project director Audrey Tendell. “Retaining a certain amount of existing fabric is paramount to making sure the architecture and design feels like it’s not brand new.”

In addition to the built structures, the development includes the 12,000-square-foot “Mary Square,” and a 22,000-square-foot green space on the Chronicle Building Roof. Roughly 25 percent of the project’s residences are set to be affordable units.

“We did a pretty good job with the balancing act, taking into account all the stakeholder interests,” said Tendell. This balancing act continues to be a factor for new development in San Francisco, as an unprecedented influx of money continues to transform the city, and the neighboring Mid-Market area in particular. The once struggling spot has more than 30 new projects on the boards, making it one of the most sought-after development zones in the city.

The project is expected to get underway by 2016 or 2017 and take more than ten years to complete. Public comments will be heard until December 1.