Adjacent to the Ferry Building and Ferry Plaza in the heart of downtown San Francisco is the Embarcadero Center, a mixed-use complex that combines offices, hotels, and retail for a daytime population of more than 15,000.
I’ve long been a fan of the urban mixed-use complex, don’t you worry – but really we planners have a complicated relationship with them. The pros are the combination of different land uses together, especially when residential is included in the mix. The cons, however, are often the segregation from the surroundings, often leading to unfortunate situations like huge blank walls to the street.
The Embarcadero Center is a fairly early example of a city-center mixed-use complex, and a successful one – although its faults can also be clearly and quickly identified. The location is near perfect; at Embarcadero Station, the busiest station for BART and probably Muni also, very close to the Ferry Building, with tons of nearby bus lines as well. What I like most about it is how it totally embodies the modernism of its time – “warts and all.” The office towers almost have an art-deco look reminiscent of Rockefeller Center (and later seen in a certain publishing house tower on Broadway in Midtown, as noted by Astrid). In many ways, it is terrible – ridiculous interior “public” open spaces that are certainly not really public, that look like they are probably quiet all of the time, but still possess an interesting look – see the photos below.