San Francisco's New Bus Shelters

Though they're not exactly the hottest design news in town, my daily walk to work up Sansome Street from the Montgomery BART stop has gained two attractive new bits of infrastructure in the past week or two. Local firm Lundberg Design won a competition put on by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to redesign the city's bus shelters. Only a few of the 1,400 shelters have already gone up, but they're still few enough to confer the shock of the new on any staid corner. Thus the pair at Sansome St. and California St. stick out as rather appealing additions to an easily overlooked and undervalued brand of city infrastructure.

Muni shelter wave

More than the actual designs of the open, solar-enhanced, LED-outfitted structures, I was struck by just how little even I, an architecturally aware pedestrian, can be of my surroundings. Especially when, like the walk to the office, they have come to feel rote. Though I do vary my route from time to time, bike, or try to come in a different times of day, the truth is my morning stroll in is usually defined by a large clock that hangs over the sidewalk just past the BART stop telling me how late I am. Beyond that it's often a matter of deciding where I'll get a cup of coffee. Even the clang and rumble of the Cable Car (I freely confess a boundless love for those tourist-besotted beetles that trundle up our high hills) that runs along California St. can get lost in my morning wander in.

But since noticing the new bus shelters, whose undulating red roofs I like most of all (they give the exposed, riveted metal a nice organic counterpoint, suggesting a kind of Sir Nicholas Grimshaw writ small), I've started reappraising the other buildings nearby. The tower at 343 Sansome is suddenly looking quite good, not least for its strongly coffee-scented lobby, a benefit it seems of the adjacent Starbucks.

The roof of the shelter is meant to mimic a number of elements of the San Francisco landscape: a shockwave, the slow dissipation of a fog bank, the undulating curves of the SFMTA's logo.
The roof of the shelter is meant to mimic a number of elements of the San Francisco landscape: a shockwave, the slow dissipation of a fog bank, the undulating curves of the SFMTA's logo.

A glassed in entryway at Sansome and Sacramento caught my eye coming in today, a structure not all that spectacular really, but crowned with a small thatch of canted supports I'd previously not seen. Call it active pedestrianism, or maybe just the occasional refresher we could all use on our most frequently taken walks, but it's all to the point that each act of urbanism, each bit of infrastructure points, however obliquely, to every other. Our cities are in constant dialogue with themselves, and we as citizens have become all too good and ignoring the din.

Sometimes though, a new voice pipes up. One that reminds you of all the other relevant, grand, peurile, drab, dazzling things being said along the same block. That Lundberg's design has not only snapped me out of my pedestrian lull, but alerted me that I was dozing in the first place, is some of the highest praise I can think of bestowing on a structure.

Suffice it to say, I like the new bus shelters. I like them on their own merits, but I like them most for reanimating the merits of the buildings nearby. It's easy to lose one's curiosity when nothing seems new. Often though, the luster of newness is most useful when it makes us reconsider what had previously felt old.

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