At the mid-point of the three-mile-long Market Street that traverses the city, United Nations Plaza acts as the gateway to San Francisco’s City Hall. Surrounded by the city’s cultural district, including theaters, museums, and civic buildings, the site was conceived as Civic Center Plaza. The 2.5-acre pedestrian space was completed in 1975, with architects Mario Ciampi and John Carl Warnecke, and immediately renamed United National Plaza to commemorate the signing of the 1945 Charter of the United Nations at the nearby Veterans War Memorial Building. A portion of Fulton Street was closed to vehicular traffic, and a wide pedestrian allée was installed that terminates at City Hall. An asymmetrical red brick plaza with a sunken sculptural concrete fountain is located in a broad plaza fronting Market Street. The plaza features irregular geometric paving patterns. In his design, Halprin experimented with a concept he called “motation,” a method for scoring how perception of environment changes depending on the speed and motion of the observer.
Like Justin Herman Plaza, the conditions at UN Plaza suffer from a lack of understanding around Halprin’s original design intent. Fortunately the sunken fountain is still running, largely the result of public outcry when the fountain was to be replaced with a taxi stand. Thanks to grass roots community efforts the fountain was returned to working order and the space rehabilitated in 2005.
Also like Justin Herman Plaza, this outdoor space is located within a National Register Historic District that does not recognize urban redevelopment within the period of significance. Furthermore, the Civic Center Area was just included in a city-sponsored Cultural Landscape Inventory that did not explore expanding the period of significance for the Civic Center Historic District. The inventory does mention that the plaza will be evaluated in further detail by the Recreation and Parks Department due to upcoming projects. It is vital that Halprin’s contribution be recognized in these future evaluations of the site.
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Dikas is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area. She has a Master’s degree in Architectural History from the University of Virginia and is a Senior Architectural Historian at a historic preservation architecture firm in San Francisco. Dikas’ love of historic buildings and landscapes pairs with a passion for photography. She has completed digital and large format photography for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), and enjoys international travel, outdoor adventure, and astrophotography.