San Francisco: The Grid Meets the Hills by Florence Lipsky

Florence Lipsky’s book San Francisco: The Grid meets the Hills examines the relationship of the urban grid and San Francisco’s notoriously unforgiving topography. The book begins by explaining the initial settlement of San Francisco in the 18th and 19th century. The territory was at the crux of a hegemonic, geo-political expansion and the grid was imposed as a top-down solution to quickly and democratically divide the land to feed real estate greed. Instead of considering community and topography the grid was imposed as a quick and easy strategy, proven by history to best serve political and economic needs. In actuality, the grid is quite difficult to execute on the topography of San Francisco. Hence, the grid creates a spatial framework that affects organizational layout and divisions, procession and views, and accessibility defined by the topography.

Lipsky postulates 4 types of deviations from the grid caused by topographic form. A Deformation occurs when the land is either altered to fit the grid or the grid is slightly distorted to fit the terrain. An Elastic Deformation occurs when the grid is visibly stretched over a hilly landscape. This is the cause for San Francisco’s roller coaster-like streets and crested views across the city from the automobile. A Fracture occurs when the landscape is so abruptly hilly that the grid is interrupted by the topography; it causes a dead end and makes certain areas only accessible by complex ramps or stairs. A Renunciation occurs when the grid can no longer support the topography and instead the road completely deviates from the grid to follow the contours of the land.

In our project, we must account for rugged topography; this would impact any design we impose on the site. Since the landscape curves, orthogonal shapes are less feasible and circulation needs to be taken into account. In our explorations we saw slides, ramps, stairs, and terraced gardens used to organize space and accomodate topography. The deviations from the grid offer strategies to generally assess topography, and act as a reminder that the design should be human-centric to be effective.



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