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Architecture + the City Festival: Past Themes
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Secret City

Secret City” explored and revealed the many layers of historic San Francisco and how architecture and design played a key role in the ever-changing urban landscape. San Francisco is filled with many people on a daily basis—locals, residents, tourists, commuters, and homeless—each having their own perspective on San Francisco’s current state. Each group of people intimately understand certain parts of the city, while other parts of the city remain hidden or tucked away from the casual observer—the Secret City. Programs created opportunities to help impart and understand the city’s past and how we can seamlessly connect the present urban community to empower a more deliberate, livable future.

Resilient City: Strength by Design

Programs investigated how architecture and design arts can proactively respond to urban resiliency challenges that affect San Francisco’s environmental, social and economic sustainability and addressed topics that included:

  • How do we empower citizens to proactively prepare for diverse disaster threats 
  • without
     cultivating a culture of fear?
  • How do we support aging in place for elderly citizens who wish to remain in San Francisco as they grow older?
  • How to we offer greater opportunity for residents and law enforcement agencies to build equitable relationships that foster trust and justice?
  • How do we prepare for the impacts of global climate change and re-introduce lost ecologies to the urban landscape?
  • How can we overcome housing challenges for San Francisco’s homeless population?

Play: Design In Action

In 2015, the Architecture and the City festival theme was Play: Design in Action. We examined play as a dynamic and essential element of the creative process for design arts, explored how it is employed by San Francisco’s design community and discussed how it can be applied to other fields (health, education, economic development).

As we explored how designers incorporate play into their creative process, we examined questions like:

  1. How does a playful approach help overcome adult tendencies to self-edit and truncate the creative process?
  2. How do we develop “rules for the game” that go beyond standard problem solving methods, which can stifle the creative process?
  3. How do we create an environment for taking risks, making mistakes, and learning?

Home: My San Francisco

Home: My San Francisco examined the shifting nature of home, the different elements that contribute to its definition, and its relation to the urban fabric. More than 40 festival programs celebrated the cultural richness and diversity of our local architectural and design community as well as provided a platform for conversation about our changing landscape and its implications for a city in a time of rapidly intensifying housing needs.

Unbuilt San Francisco

2013 Unbuilt San Francisco San Francisco's architectural heritage consisted of the buildings and spaces we see and touch, but also the structures that were never built and the plans that never came to be. The 2013 festival theme, Unbuilt San Francisco, explored a parallel history of this ever-provocative city. The collaborative Unbuilt San Francisco exhibition was co-curated by AIA San Francisco, Center for Architecture + Design, Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley, California Historical Society, SPUR and the San Francisco Public Library.

Design: It's About Time
In an era when many aspects of our lives become seemingly obsolete and replaceable overnight, the fabric of the city often feels like the most permanent feature of our daily lives. With the 2012 festival theme, Design: It’s About Time, we encouraged our audience to pause and consider the enduring power of design in our built environment.

Architecture of Consequence
A collaborative exhibition featured work by design firms from the Netherlands and the Bay Area which demonstrated how progressive design and creative problem solving can address many of our most pressing urban issues, from decreased social cohesion and unsustainable food systems to diminishing free time.


Annabelle Udo-O'Malley
Manager, Public Programs
(415) 874-2632