Review of the Public Space at the San Francisco Federal Building

The Public Space at the San Francisco federal building is a design platypus that could only be the product of a drunkard ménage à trios between a uniquely San Francisco bureaucrat, a uniquely San Francisco activist, and Jack Bauer.

The small space on the 11th floor is made smaller by too many tables and chairs and, yet even smaller by two partitioned-off areas. The day I visited, a folded up ping pong table at the northeastern corner completed the cross-room obstacle course. There is no wall on the 7th street side which, given the often foggy and windy San Francisco weather, is about as charming as a wet cat. The room is segregated form the sky by a six-or-seven-foot-wide V-shaped metal barrier, an odd if not somewhat garish décor when viewed from inside the space. The bulwark nonetheless provides an ideal landing spot for SEAL teams in case the building is ever seized, and is a perfect sniper perch to repel any advancing hostiles. As bonus, unlike a narrow bridge railing or a window ledge, it also provides a comfortable platform for last minute contemplation before a headfirst jump.

To access the space, visitors must endure airport-style screening, conducted by Homeland Security staffers. In addition, visitors must also present government-issued identification, the data off of which is logged.  The strip-and-x-ray is followed with the question: “Where are you from”. I took this question in the context of keeping statistics on tourists who visit the building. But I was wrong. The true intent of question is to determine citizenship status. Yes! You have to be a US citizen to visit the space.

Unlike public spaces in other San Francisco commercial buildings, the one in the Federal building is only a testimony to loophole lawyering. It appears deliberate to minimally satisfy, if not downright ridicule, some inflexible city ordinance. I couldn’t help but wonder if the spirit of the ordinance, and taxpayers, would not have been better served if funds spent on the security and maintenance of the space were instead allocated to commission one or more artworks, installed at the street level. No security checks. No citizenship questions. Just a pleasant San Francisco experience.

All in all, only one message is clearly woven through the entire visit experience to this space: You are not welcome here.