David Baker Architects


Cows Grazing in the Rumpus Room

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By Allison Arieff
NY Times
March 19, 2008

Photo: Marion Brenner

O.K., the planet is officially out of (or back in?) alignment: American farmers are making money hand over fist while the hedge fund guys are wishing they’d put a little more cash under the mattress. Corn growers in the United States can no longer keep pace with the staggering global demand for the raw material of corn syrup and ethanol and so, seemingly out of nowhere, there’s a demand for more farmland.

That just looks wrong on the page!

But it’s true. We are running out of farmland and some people, like finance guru James Cramer in his recent column for New York magazine urging readers to invest in farm supply equipment, are suggesting — only a little facetiously — that housing developments may need to be razed to clear the way for more farmland.

That sounds crazy, but it really shouldn’t come as much of surprise: for decades, we’ve systematically razed nearly every patch of land we’ve been able to in an effort to create more room for industry, technology and people, without really paying attention to what’s being lost in the process. With scores of homes being abandoned because of the current mortgage debacle, some innovative rethinking is going to have to happen around overbuilt subdivisions, master planned communities and urban high rises.

Photo: Marion Brenner

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Not long ago, any visions of an agrarian return would have been chalked up to nostalgia: today, such conjurings don’t seem so far-fetched. And indeed, the purposeful reclamation of urban and suburban lands is serious fodder for artists, architects and academics alike.

Creating open space where others wouldn’t think to look for it is a trademark of architect David Baker, who, for Curran House, an affordable housing project in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin neighborhood, designed roof gardens with small individual container garden plots allowing residents to cultivate their own crops.

And, by persuading the developers and the City of San Francisco to lose the proposed parking lot (an accomplishment of epic proportions in the realm of residential construction), Baker created an open-air gathering space at the back of the building’s lobby — accessed, cleverly, by a roll-up door typically used for garages.