Site Folsom St & Main St, San Francisco, CA
Omphalos (from Greek, meaning “navel; hub”) is a new cultural and commercial core for the city of San Francisco. It seeks to redefine interpersonal relationships in a highly stratified, technocratic, city by creating new spatial and formal arrangements and challenging old ones.
Omphalos features two main interlocking programmatic and tectonic systems; 1) the solid, orangish brown plinth and “top hat” consisting of cultural, retail, and social spaces (restaurants, cafes, an art museum, and music hall); and 2) the double curtain-wall glass-enclosed commercial tower. Formally, spatially, and materially distinct, the two systems initiate subtle dynamic disruptions in the other, suggesting a comingling of business (work) on the one hand, and recreation (play) on the other. At the same time, the distinct systems explores the dichotomous relationship between urban cultural life and the self-segregation of the American corporate world. Omphalos seeks to subtly disrupt this self-segregated condition.
The plinth and top hat act as the vibrant social cores of the building – beckoning passersby inside and creating places of communal interaction. An undulating, vaguely conical mass occupies the site at the base of the commercial tower, and from it extends a heavy, rectangular box which spans the length of the site. The box angles slightly upward, revealing an all-glass-enclosed restaurant, café, and inviting staircases traversing upward.
The commercial tower houses tech companies and Silicon Valley start-ups. On three sides of the building (the southeast, northwest, and northeast), the commercial tower meets the plinth in a dynamic interplay of intersections and markings, reaffirming the interdependence of work and play.
The project is punctuated by its landmark “top hat,” which reaffirms the roof deck as a place of public gathering and recreation. Like the plinth, the top hat disrupts the regimented, regular tectonic structure of the commercial tower, sitting nestled within the tower’s top floors. Above and adjacent it is the roof deck, which, along with the other roof deck and the courtyard at the base, form a dynamic, heterogenous system of public squares, intended for outdoor recreation.