A Rubik’s Cube of Uses: San Francisco Conservatory of Music Packs Arts, Residential and Commercial Space into New Expansion

San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Mark Cavagnero Associates, Charles Pankow Builders, Equity Community Builders, Civic Center, William K. Bowers Jr.
Renderings Courtesy of SFCM

By Meghan Hall

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) is a private music school that sits at the heart of San Francisco. Founded in 1917, the school has expanded over the past 100 years to accommodate more than 400 students from more than 30 countries around the world. Over the past year itself, SFCM has made great strides in its physical expansion as well—working with Equity Community Builders, Mark Cavagnero Associates and Charles Pankow Builders—to bring the new 12-story, 168,000 square foot Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts to life. Upon completion, the building will host a wide range of uses, from residences for students to classrooms to public performance halls to commercial retail space. 

“The new building on Van Ness Avenue for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music has been a singular and exemplary effort in many ways,” said Mark Cavagnero in a statement. “It will provide a completely integrated environment where students will live, learn, rehearse, perform, socialize, and engage the larger community. There has been extraordinary attention paid to detail and the craft of building, to materiality and light, as these will inspire each student in different ways at different times. This building, this organism, will be alive 24 hours a day, filled with the sights and sounds of music and people, propelling the Conservatory forward for generations to come, in the very heart of the San Francisco Performing Arts District.”

Located just adjacent to San Francisco’s Civic center on Van Ness Avenue, the name of the building is in honor of William K. Bowes Jr., whose foundation donated $46.4 million towards the project—the largest single gift ever made to a conservatory or music school for a new facility, according to SFCM. The project is expected to toal about $185 million. Upon completion of the new building, SFCM’s building at 50 Oak Street will remain in use.

Equity Community Builders is serving as the project manager and is in charge of entitlements, permitting, budget and design. The new SFCM designed by Mark Cavagnero Associates, and for whom Charles Pankow Builders is the general contractor, will be somewhat of a mixed-use phenomenon upon completion, given the compact massing of the project site. It will house 420 students, have two concert halls—of which 90 percent of performances will be free and open to the public—a restaurant with live performance space, multiple classrooms, rehearsal spaces, a recording studio, student center and conference facilities. 

Residences will be two- and three-bedroom suites complete with full bathroom, kitchenette and living spaces. 

The Jewel Box Recital Hall on the ground floor will seat about 100 and will feature sprung floors and floor-to-ceiling glass walls, while the Penthouse Recital Hall on the 11th floor will seat more than 200. Like its smaller counterpart, the Penthouse Recital Hall will also be complete with floor-to-ceiling glass walls with views of City Hall, Davies Symphony and the War Memorial Opera House. The lobby-level student space will be complete with a self-service coffee bar and various other amenities, and the top level will feature a green terrace.

“This is a bit of a Rubik’s cube of uses,” explained Marc Valls, project executive at Pankow, who has worked on numerous projects throughout San Francisco. The SFCM project is its fifth on the Van Ness corridor in the last five years and includes the Panoramic, high density student housing, and the War Memorial Veteran’s Building. “There is pretty much all of the uses in the code with the exception of one or two. It’s not common to have that many different things, especially in a massing of that size.” 

The project and development team met weekly, noted Valls, due to the complexity of the project. An execution plan was created early on and technologies such as virtual reality were used so that SFCM could give the project team feedback on critical points such as layout and design before proceeding. Valls has no doubt that the project, when completed in 2020, will serve to elevate the neighborhood.

“The project is ideally located at the heart of the Music and performance district in San Francisco, within a couple of blocks of SFCM’s main building, SF Jazz, and across the street from the SF Symphony, Ballet, and Opera House,” continued Valls. “The new SFCM Bowes Center allows residents, students, and faculty to have easy access to neighboring institutions, as well as a variety of mass transit options. The building itself artfully blends with the majestic structures nearby and its all glass ground level recital hall, restaurant, and student center and second floor classical radio station will energize the neighborhood sidewalks in the evenings.”

San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Mark Cavagnero Associates, Charles Pankow Builders, Equity Community Builders, Civic Center, William K. Bowers Jr.
Renderings Courtesy of SFCM
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