Marlow Building Featured in SF Gate / by Elaine Chan

SF Gate

SF's Van Ness Avenue shows signs of architectural energy



The thicket of residential towers proposed for Van Ness Avenue at Market Street is new, but the once-grand roadway's transition to a corridor lined with housing has been moving forward methodically for more than 30 years.

While more than 1,800 apartments and condominiums have been added during that period, the architecture has been a mixed bag at best. Now, thankfully, there are signs that things are looking up - and if the most recent additions are no match for the classically flavored high points along the way, they add energy and heft to a boulevard that for too long has been treated with too little respect.

The energy is provided by the Marlow, a brash eight-story box of condominiums that opened this year at Van Ness and Clay Street. It's a contemporary design that comes close to abstraction, with gray aluminum cubes popping from a background of bright, white cement board. Especially on Clay, the impression is that of an overlapped pattern of colors and forms meant to be experienced on the move.

The Marlow follows the debut last fall of Etta, a 13-story apartment complex at Van Ness and Sutter that's more a diagram than a design, yet substantial enough to be satisfying. There's a four-story base with a tall ground floor, then a broad tower with nine extra stories. Both are clad in earthy pre-cast concrete, a big step up from the neutral stucco that has been the norm of late.

Ambition and a smile

The Marlow's scale is more modest, with 98 units on a block where there's a liquor store next door. What it brings instead is ambition, a desire to catch the eye and bring a smile.

The multilayered facade is the most obvious signal, with the metal cubes above Van Ness marching left to right in a 3-2-3-2-3 sequence as they pop from the flat white backdrop. Viewed straight on, the wall reads as a modern update of traditional bays; from an angle, the dark boxes snap into diagonal lines.

On Clay Street, where the building steps down toward Polk, the cubes tumble asymmetrically - textured depth of a different sort. At sidewalk level, two glass storefronts sit within lean frames of white metal with orange accents.

- John King

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