CBS Video on “Mountain View City Council Rejects Boxy Architecture, Seeks More Organic Designs”

KPIX in SF (CBS) posted a video titled “Mountain View City Council Rejects Boxy Architecture, Seeks More Organic Designs

Boxy design reminds me of the proletariat 60s design that went out of style fast.. within 10 years in fact. Those old 60s buildings quickly became eyesores.. and I suspect the buildings we are putting up that benefit developers (every inch of the box can be sold and building them is cheap) will not stand the test of time either, leading to more ugly reputation for Mountain View. When I moved here, people had horrified looks on their faces, when I told them. I asked why, as Old Mountain View is lovely and I hadn’t seen anything ugly. They replied that the proletariat 60s apartment buildings were all over the rest of it, and I live in one of two nice neighborhoods. The rest was awful, as I quickly discovered. But still I’d hoped we’d learned from those old design mistakes. However, we appear to want to repeat history and do it all again. And the community will suffer while the developers and architects will live elsewhere, no need to live with the bad buildings they leave us with.

I’m happy to see our City Council of Mountain View is recognizing that these new boxy slightly refreshed but still 60s-proletariat buildings aren’t cutting it. But can developers think of anything to come up with truly livable designs?

Today in the Downtown Committee, Robert Green of The Robert Green Company presented a hotel and office, and said to us, “Mountain View doesn’t have a style.” And then “We are trying to find it….” And this is what he presented (along with Rob Zirkle of brick. who presented the Villa proposal):

Hotel and Offices proposals

Where is the livability in that?

Mountain View does have a style. Neither of these guys live here, so they don’t even realize our style. But it’s west coast craftsman arts and crafts, Queen Anne, Victorian, along with Spanish Mission (Tied House uses this with a mixture of that and Hamberg Warehouse style). Just because developers have ripped out and ruined some of our heritage and mostly put up garbage design that’s boxy, doesn’t mean we don’t have some remaining style left in our town. We want to save the stylish parts and build where we aren’t removing our heritage, with design that makes sense and is beautiful, with quality.

Other more imaginative developers have been able to muster that sense of quality and design. See these View Street Condos (just off Villa and Dana) for reference. In fact I would prefer to see the City ask the Hotel, and offices all be built in this style and quality:

Villa Condos Example of Mountain View Style

What makes the View Condos a great development isn’t just the design but good quality materials, attention to detail and a variety of special spaces such as the balconies, entries and courtyard, different heights and varying levels of facade. It’s still a very large building and yet standing at the front at street level it feels very human and livable. Also, high quality troweled stucco instead of popcorn pin point stucco is used, as is great thick wooden treatments for balconies and trims, doors and windows. No flimsy vinyl window divides here.. it’s a highly desirable building.

We need more of this.. and no more boxy proletariat buildings. These proposed hotel and offices are $100 million each buildings. Amazing that Green and Zirkle would propose such short sighted construction and design for Mountain View that won’t stand the test of time.

– Mary H

PBS on Big Companies and Mountain View, Menlo Park and Cupertino

Silicon Valley has changed a lot, and it keeps changing. Big tech companies create huge successes, their employees take stock options and buy houses driving up prices, and towns that were sleepy get smaller-big-companies wanting to locate nearby.

Welcome to Mountain View, home of Google. Or Googletown as I like to call it. (Apple and Cupertino or Appletown, and Facebook and Menlo Park, or Facepark.. are also my nicknames for those places).

Anyway, PBS News Hour did a story on this a couple of days ago: Ever-growing tech giants have changed the pace and price of life in Silicon Valley

PBS News Hour on Silicon Valley growth

From Former Mayor Jac Siegel, Mountain View about all the changes we are seeing, and the challenges:

It’s just totally changing the nature of where we live, for people, for the sake of Google employment and for the developers who want to make a lot of money, and they do. It’s becoming a town of apartment dwellers more than others. An example; look on the right here; there’s 200 units of apartment buildings and yet minimal parking and no infrastructure.

We are challenged with how to grow, and still have a livable town that is unique in Silicon Valley. Mountain View risks becoming an office park if we don’t preserve what is left that makes us unique. Those few unique assets differentiate us from any other town, and now, with the pressures of development we risk it all. Help us act now to save the Chez TJ and Tied House buildings, by taking action and signing our petition, coming to the November 28th City Council meeting to support preservation of what gives us character and makes us Mountain View.

– Mary H.

Rethinking Our Approach to the Design of Mountain View

Yes! I performed a mental fist pump just reading the title, People Focused Design: Making Mountain View a Great Place to Live. Thank you, Bruce Liedstrand for bringing up the concept. I applaud the notion that design ought to center on people. It should be a given starting point in any design project, especially one that deals with the public realm.

The public realm is what unifies a city, gives it character and diversity. The design of the public realm is the physical manifestation of how a city prioritizes the shared needs of their community. It includes buildings that house public functions, like schools, libraries, and City Hall, as well as open spaces and parks. Often overlooked as components of the public realm, but having an enormous impact in our experience of a place are the streets, the sidewalks, and to a large degree, the buildings that front those streets. Regardless of whether a building is private or public, regardless of the building’s use, the height and massing of a building, its architecture, the relationship of the ground-floor to a public sidewalk or street, etc.- they all act in tandem to create the experience of our public spaces.

Think about any great city. Though there are iconic structures, I’d bet that your experience walking the boulevards, residential streets, plazas, and parks, and your exposure to the people are a significant, if not the primary reason, that makes that city great in your mind. It is the shared spaces, the public realm, that provide the greatest sense of place.

The same holds true for our city. The public realm is what we collectively know as Mountain View. How these spaces interact with each other and how we interact with those spaces should be the starting point for any project. Perhaps we should consider the design of the city in terms of a weaving of public spaces.

Someone recently posed to me what I thought were excellent questions:

Where do you take your out-of-town family and friends when you want to show them Mountain View? Why there?

In 2009, my husband and I chose to live in Mountain View over other neighboring cities after seeing the downtown, but it was the potential for the downtown to become even better that excited me. I recently learned a bit about the history of Mountain View, and fully appreciate the effort in the late 1980’s to redesign Castro Street, laying the foundation for a wonderful public space.

There’s a lot to be proud of in our city, but lately I have been less excited by the direction of our downtown. I am not alone. I hear grumblings of frustration from neighbors and friends. I’m told several downtown businesses are suffering, the landscaping and sidewalk upkeep too. Many are dismayed that historic buildings have been, and are, slated for removal. A couple of the newest downtown buildings are designed to subtly push the public rather away rather than invite them in. Parking is a grievance. Is this the experience the community wants?

Typically, a city evolves slowly over time. Even a single development project can take time. If it has a not-so-great outcome, it usually doesn’t impact the city for a couple years, and even then, not to a great extent. However, we are living at a moment when an enormous push for development is occurring in an incredibly compressed amount of time, stemming from many small and large, and even powerful companies. Collectively, the developments in the pipeline for Mountain View as a whole (maybe 70 or more?) will greatly impact our city for the foreseeable future. These developments can change the entirety of our city, make or break our sense of what Mountain View is. It is imperative that we make incredibly smart and educated decisions.

I do not envy the Council members. The weight of their responsibility is great. I believe they have the best intentions for the city, and have moved the city in a positive way on many fronts. However, we must aim higher.

I know Council is always open to hearing our voices, but there seems to be a disconnect between what the community seeks and values for our shared spaces and what we are getting in terms of new development. If people-focused design starts with understanding what the community wants, it begs the question,“ How we can improve the dialogue?”

When we dig deep into the questions of how to design our public realm with people at the focus, we inevitably get tangled in issues such as parking, retail, infrastructure, safety, transportation, schools, etc. Just as our lives intersect and overlap as citizens of Mountain View, so do all the issues that relate to our daily living. Each is a challenging topic in its own right and requires specific input by experts in each field, but they cannot be addressed in isolation. Similarly, we cannot address each development in isolation without first having a comprehensive plan for the overall design of our city. These all need to be examined in whole in order to provide a framework so we can better address the parts.

We rely on Council to be to be the voice and hand of the community, to ensure that decisions made today are part of a well-planned strategy for the future of our shared city, a future that considers its people at the core. A lot of change is coming fast. We need to do better and we need to do it quickly, even if it means taking a step back to reassess our approach to designing our city.

It is too much to expect the council members to be experts in every field in which they govern. It is my hope that they are humble enough to seek expertise in order to examine what hasn’t worked as well, and then enlist professionals versed in people-focused design to help face the wave of development that seems to be upon us. Designing for the whole is a problem-solving process that requires all our available experts and resources to come together. Mountain View is planted in an area that prides itself as a center for innovation and creative thought. I imagine that if we pool experience, common sense, and creativity, between the will of the city and its people, we could sow some pretty ingenious ways to address these mundane issues.

Joyce Yin,
Concerned Citizen, Architect, and Urban Designer