“Home as Art”: San Francisco’s The Quinn Focuses Design Around Unique Relationship Between Art and Architecture

Presidio Bay Ventures, San Francisco, KFiSH, SoMa, RG Architecture, The Quinn
The Quinn’s lobby mural by KFiSH. Courtesy of Presidio Bay Ventures

By Meghan Hall

In many developments, art pieces are often presented as the final finishing touches of a project, the last step before completion and delivery. However, the project team of The Quinn, a 38-unit residential development in San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood, is looking to turn that model on its head. A driving mantra of “Home as art. Art as home.” has become the epicenter of the development. Presidio Bay Ventures teamed up with artist Kelcey Fisher at the earliest stages of the development process to make art the true epicenter of the project.

“One of the neat things about SoMa and particularly the surrounding area was just the architecture itself, but also the life and art that is pretty prevalent in the area,” explained Presidio Bay Ventures’ Managing Director Cyrus Sanandaji. “We reached out and sought to collaborate with Kelcey on how to bring art into the true DNA of the building itself and have the building itself take on the character of the art.”

When Fisher—known to the wider art community as KFiSH—came on board, the project was in its earliest stages and there was only a nascent idea as to what the development’s design aesthetic would be. According to Sanandaji, Presidio Bay was striving for a more modern scheme with clean lines that would provide a sense of respite from the hustle and bustle of SoMa. The addition of KFiSH to the project team meant that from the get-go, an artist would be driving the greater look and feel of the development project.

“It was a bold idea on our end,” admitted Sanandaji. “We’ve always talked about art and architecture, but we have never taken it to this level of really having the art inform the overall brand and identity and vision of the project…and in turn have the project really accommodate art as a central element.” 

Together, KFiSH and Presidio Bay Ventures, along with RG Architecture, worked carefully on a concept for The Quinn’s design. The resulting scheme, dubbed “Controlled Chaos,” arose from the process KFiSH uses to produce his art.

“When I’m working, I work pretty fast, and it’s like this crazy energy going into each brush stroke. It goes up pretty quick,” said KFiSH. “But when I finish [the piece], it has this calming, cohesive energy coming off of it. That’s where it originally started.”

The idea aligned with Presidio Bay’s original vision of creating an urban oasis in the heart of SoMa, one that draws on the energy of the neighborhood but produces a calming environment for residents.

Visual of The Quinn’s courtyard. Courtesy of Presidio Bay Ventures

“Controlled Chaos really embodied the whole idea of the urban oasis, this tranquil reprieve…” said Sanandaji. “The pattern just ended up becoming the natural identity of the entire building…It all fell into place totally organically…”

The idea helped to inform the layout of the building, which features a large central courtyard, setbacks along the alley for additional outdoor space, and units that feature double height walls. Combined, they produce a gallery-like feel—an ideal environment to host KFiSH’s work.

KFiSH produced three pieces for the development, all unique in their own way but tied into the transition from the abundance of activity in the neighborhood to the peaceful interior of the building. The first mural, located along Rogers Street, is edgier to fit SoMa’s energy. A smaller, dry brush organic pattern was used to create a busy-ness to the piece. Moving into the courtyard, the original design was blown up to scale, requiring seven levels of scaffolding to complete. Massive brush strokes define the piece and contrasts with a lighter background. The lobby houses the third piece, which features mixed media with three different layers of craftsman paper. The papers are different colors and cut into different shapes to give the appearance of the art coming off of the wall. Pops of turquoise can be found in every piece, tying them together and providing a basic color scheme for the overall building.

“The pieces are all unique in their own way,” stated KFiSH. “…It is like a timeline of my art personally, and I really like how that worked out.”

KFiSH also worked to produce a series of smaller commissions for the first residents of the building. The pieces also build upon those in the common areas of the project but also feature warmer pops of color. While they tie together, they are all also very individualized.

For both Presidio Bay and KFiSH, having art dictate the design and feel of a project produced a different take on the typical development process and design workflow. For KFiSH as an artist, being involved in the earliest stages of a project—as opposed to the last—made all the difference.

“Working on the project from the beginning really helped the process along; it made it easier to come up with something that would fit the project,” said KFiSH. “If [I come in at the end], I am putting my stamp on the building rather than working with the team to come up with something that’s really cohesive.” 

The result of waiting until late into the design process to incorporate art, according to KFiSH and Sanandaji, is that those design elements can often feel like an afterthought. Moving ahead, Presidio Bay is considering using a similar approach in future developments.

“It needs to be purposeful. It needs to come together and be harmonious,” said Sanandaji. “Art and architecture and taking it to this level is a key value of our as a firm.  But it takes two to make this work. We have an incredible partnership with KFiSH, and it’s…about finding that same energy and connection to come up with the next idea.”

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