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The proposal for Symphony Hall is long overdue. It corrects a design mistake made when the building was first proposed.
Preserving the Fox Theatre and building a hotel and office building around and on top of it was a great urbanistic solution and, in fact, was close to the original intent when the Fox Theatre was built originally, but the plan was never achieved due to the Depression.
Whether ” . . . (T)he Symphony allowed its home–the fancy 1920’s-era Fox Theatre–to be hidden from the street by a massive office . . . .” or whether it had much to say about it at all can be debated. The building was a product of the modernism design approach of the time — one that did not recognize the importance of a building’s relationship to the street nor how that relationship is a critical factor in the vibrancy of a downtown.
The city planning department pushed strongly to have a real pedestrian-friendly street frontage on both the office tower and the hotel rather than the bland, pedestrian-unfriendly lobby that is there — one that hides one of our true architectural jewels. But the recommendation of the staff was overruled; motivated by the strong desire to do anything that would preserve the theater and build the office tower and the hotel.
Another missed opportunity was the 12th floor lobby. A recommendation that came from the design review process was to have windows on the 12th floor so patrons in the lobby and restaurants could look out at the cityscape. That idea lost out to mechanical rooms whose great views are hidden behind closed doors.
Michael Stepner is a professor of architecture and urban design at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design and a former architect at the city of San Diego.