In 2009, our studio began the experimental PROXY project involving the concept of flexible urbanism. This came about after we responded to a request for proposals issued by the Mayor’s Office of Workforce and Economic Development in San Francisco. The city was asking for proposals for one to four year temporary uses of vacant lots in the Central Freeway and Hayes Valley areas before they were sold for development of residential units. Proxy was a direct outcome.
These lots were first created when the elevated section of Highway 101 was damaged during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. In the aftermath of the earthquake, a drawn-out and contentious debate followed as to what should be done where the Freeway once stood. The question was finally resolved by a local ballot measure in 1999.
The neighborhood voted to have the remains of the freeway replaced with a wide boulevard for funneling freeway traffic off of highway 101 into the city streets. Allan Jacobs, the city planner involved, came up with a design for the Octavia Boulevard that also created 22 irregular lots in what was formerly the footprint of the 101 Freeway.
The lots came under the control of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office and given alphabetical names from A in the north to V in the south where Octavia and Market streets intersect. A goal was set to establish both subsidized and market-rate residential housing units to be built in the area as well as for filling in the space made vacant by the demolition of Central Freeway 32.
During the 2008 economic slowdown, the development team and architects put bids for market-rate residence construction on these lots on hold. This also included our multi-family residential lots of M and N located between Fell and Oak Streets. At this time, the Mayor’s Office began a request for proposals for other, temporary uses for these lots until the economy improves, inspiring the PROXY project.
As we became involved in dialog with the Hayes Valley Neighborhood representatives and came to understand their needs when we began development of our M and N lots, we began to envision other potential temporary uses for some of the other lots that lie vacant in the area through PROXY. This dialog gave us inspiration for imagining temporary structures which could infuse a new sense of connection and vitality in this neighborhood.
Starting from this point, we developed the plan for PROXY designed around flexible and temporary structures that might become a model for change in urban situations like the one faced in this area.