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Cladding innovation last century-style in San Francisco

Valeria Carullo

Hallidie Building, San Francisco, 1918

Hallidie Building, San Francisco.
Hallidie Building, San Francisco. Credit: Gabriel Moulin, RIBA Collections

The Hallidie Building in San Francisco is an extraordinary if perhaps little-known building, designed by architect Willis Polk and completed exactly 100 years ago. Commissioned by the University of California and named after Andrew S Hallidie, inventor of San Francisco’s cable car system and a former Regent of the University, the building was described by Henry Russell Hitchcock as the ‘first true example of the curtain wall applied to a large urban structure’. Its precedents had supporting elements in the same plane of the facade, while the Hallidie Building’s street front is an almost continuous glass surface, literally hung on the cantilevered spandrels. The decorative element is provided by the ironwork balconies and cornices in Venetian Gothic style, and by the fire escapes cleverly treated, in Polk’s words, ‘as part of the artistic composition of the design’. Threatened with demolition in subsequent decades, the building was designated a ‘historic monument’ in 1971 and renovated in the 1980s and in 2011-2013. It now houses, among other companies and institutions, the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects.