David Baker Architects


Architecture Bike Tours: See the City

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Image: Dustin Jensen/San Francisco Chronicle

September 10, 2009
This article appeared on page F - 27 of the San Francisco Chronicle

by Michael Tanner

While a brief moment of inattention on any bike path in the this town can send you flying right into an exquisite Victorian confection or sleek modernist slab, this weekend you can make your two-wheeled interaction with San Francisco's architectural gems more systematic and less painful, and earn a discount on tickets to boot, by riding your bike to the American Institute of Architects' San Francisco Living: Home Tours. Then again, you are really on your own tour of the city's diverse urban design anytime you cross it on a bicycle.

Biking the city really lends itself to a constant awareness of the cityscape, according to architect David Baker of David Baker + Partners—a firm specializing in sustainable, affordable, high-density projects—who leads regular architecture tours of his own with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

 "You have a better spatial sense of the city when you traverse it by bike," he says. "This is mainly due to being able to look around freely, without the distractions of being trapped inside a little metal box."

And, though you can cover a lot more scenic ground with the aid of pedals and gears than you can by foot alone, you still remain your own engine, which makes a difference. It allows a rider to "experience distance in a very different way, because one earns it," Baker says. "You're more engaged with the topography as well, especially in districts like Russian Hill and Presidio Heights."

Which also means you might be going a little slower at times, but that's not a bad thing as far as paying attention to you surroundings goes. "I ride pretty slow," he admits. "This is not about being an athlete, just a healthy, mobile human."
Join Baker Sunday, Sept. 20, for his Second Bay Traditions Tour, a tour of San Francisco modern architecture, featuring the vernacular style of modernism prevalent in the region from the 1920s through 1960s.
Going the distance
Luckily, plenty of the city's structural landmarks are easily accessible within a fairly non-strenuous downtown circuit, which encompasses the cream of the Top 25 San Francisco buildings as named by The Chronicle. A self-guided route, available as a map on the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's Web site, proceeds from the historic Hallidie Building in the Financial District, through SoMa and the Civic Center, past the Curran House in the Tenderloin and back to the Xanadu Gallery by Frank Lloyd Wright off Union Square.

But the traditional street grid of San Francisco makes almost any part of the city a great place to explore. "The car-accommodating engineering of the last century was only able to mess up small parts of the city—most is still oriented to the pedestrian and the cyclist," explains Baker. "That's why it's such a great place to live."

And as it gets better for riding, he insists, it gets better for everyone. Citing the Danish urban designer Jan Gehl, he says, "A city that is sweet to its cyclists is sweet to its people. There is a reason people pay more for a place that's great for humans unencumbered by 6,000 pounds of machine, even if it is hard to park sometimes."

This is part of the reason that the AIA is encouraging people to take this weekend's house tour by bike. Not only does it let participants view the city from a different perspective, according to the AIA's Helen Wong, but "sustainability is also a concept we're promoting."

You'll also be saving $10-$15 off the ticket price and be designer cool. "A lot of architects are also urban cyclists," according to Baker. "It's a better way to look at architecture than driving."
Mostly modest

AIA San Francisco's San Francisco Living: Home Tours takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and features homes in a variety of styles and neighborhoods but mostly modest-size contemporary constructions and remodelings of 860 to 1,000 square feet, in keeping with this year's theme of Everyday Design.

Bicyclists must arrive by bike at Home Tours Headquarters at Stable Cafe (2128 Folsom St.) to purchase same-day tickets and pick up bike-route directions provided by the SFBC. Be prepared for some robust riding, as breathtaking views come with breath-sucking climbs. Bicycle tickets are $60 for AIA or SFBC members and $70 for nonmembers. More information is available at www.aiasf.org/hometours.

Or join Baker the following Sunday, Sept. 20, for his Second Bay Traditions Bicycle Ride, a tour of San Francisco modern architecture, featuring the vernacular style of modernism prevalent in the region from the 1920s through 1960s, and stopping by houses by William Wurster, Erich Mendelsohn, John Dinwiddie, Gardiner Dailey, Richard Neutra and Joseph Esherick. The ride meets at Justin Herman Plaza at 11 a.m. and costs $20 for AIA or SFBC members and $30 for nonmembers. For more information and to register, go to www.dbarchitect.com/SecondBayTraditionsTour.

Bike About Town is presented by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a 10,000-member nonprofit dedicated to creating safer streets and more livable communities by promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation. For more biking resources, go to www.sfbike.org.