Designs Within Reach 2014

Thanks to some big thinkers and talented designers, our region’s architectural profile is poised to rise in the next few years, both literally and figuratively. Here’s a preview of some of our faves.

The Barn

Estimated Opening: 2016

The Barn is intended to express a visual extension of the riverfront. (Renderings courtesy of Fulcrum.)

The Barn is intended to express a visual extension of the riverfront. (Renderings courtesy of Fulcrum.)


The Sacramento River rolls lazily by on this hot May afternoon. Birdsong floats out of the cottonwood trees lining its wild banks while a desultory breeze blows patchy ripples across the surface. In a nearby field, already filled with browning grass, a jackrabbit lopes by, late for nothing and taking his time.

It’s an idyllic slice of serenity, but raise your eyes and you’ll see downtown’s skyline directly across the shore from this riverfront plot of West Sacramento near the River Walk trail and just a home run’s distance from Raley Field.

“That’s really the promise this property has to offer,” says developer Mark Friedman, who is also at the helm of the new arena design. “It’s a place where nature and the city come together.” Standing on a patch of land that he’s about to transform with a free-flowing modernist structure dubbed “The Barn,” Friedman hopes the public space will draw locals to eat, drink, lounge and celebrate a collective agricultural heritage made possible by the water flowing just a few feet away.

“It’s not well understood that this close to downtown you can be this close to nature,” he adds. “While the structure doesn’t reflect a barn, the design DNA evokes an agrarian structure. It’s a physical response to the experience we were trying to create.”

The Barn promises to deliver on that experience that Friedman and almost every other Sacramentan loves: the indoor-outdoor living of a mostly mild climate—from warm summer nights cooled by the delta breeze and a cocktail or two, to the fall mornings with a cold bite in the air and a hot cup of coffee to fend it off. Friedman hopes that as early as next spring, The Barn will serve as a stopping point to savor those scenes. It will also double as a nexus for community happenings and an architectural expression of the region’s agricultural identity and philosophy.

And it’s part and parcel of Friedman’s larger vision nearby, where his Park Moderns residential project—homes encircling a small park with century-old olive trees to form a communal front yard—strives to redefine urban living, and is set to welcome its first residents this fall, breathing new life into the nascent Bridge District.

For The Barn, Friedman enlisted the help of Dutch landscape designer Jerry van Eyck, a man he describes as one of his “architectural heroes,” and whose New York firm !melk is currently working on projects like a renovation of the public spaces along the Las Vegas Strip and an expansion of the Mercedes-Benz campus in Germany.

In Sacramento, van Eyck envisioned a land-based “bridge,” with two rounded “pods” anchoring a curvaceous span that almost mimics a bend in the river—an amorphous design he compares to a “sprouting vegetable seed.” The bridge, about 85 feet across at its widest point, creates shade (like a neo-Druid, van Eyck incorporated the seasonal movement of the sun into his concept to provide maximum summer coverage and access for warming rays in the cold months) and a 5,100-square-foot outdoor “room” underneath with protected seating and unobstructed water views. At 182 feet long, the structure is big enough to house a stage for music festivals or tables for more formal happenings. A local restaurateur (yet to be chosen) will manage the food and drink offerings, but Friedman is aiming for simple but superior; think Napa’s wildly popular gourmet diner Gott’s Roadside.

The space under the structure is designed for year-round use.

The space under the structure is designed for year-round use.

The pods at each end feature enclosed spaces—one with a kitchen and the other with an interpretive center that will explain the design ethos. While the ideology of The Barn is progressive, the materials used to build it are intentionally ordinary. The entire outer skin consists of virtually identical off-the-shelf cedar shingles. Despite the structure’s curvilinear form, it will be almost entirely constructed out of straight planks.

The cedar shingles, adds Stephen Jaycox, head of design for Friedman’s firm Fulcrum, will weather inconsistently, creating gradients of grey with maturity.

“This is really going to develop and turn more beautiful with age,” says Jaycox, adding that the silhouette and the way time will change its appearance will enhance the design by ensuring that no two views of the building are ever the same. That ongoing transformation increases its feel of being a part of the uncultivated surroundings and an extension of the freedom and emotion of the river, making it the perfect place for a civilized and sophisticated stop in the wild.

“Landscape, building or art?” he asks. “I love that ambiguity in this thing.”

The Metropolitan

Estimated Groundbreaking: 2015

If built, John Saca’s planned 41-story condo and hotel tower would be the tallest building in Sacramento.

If built, John Saca’s planned 41-story condo and hotel tower would be the tallest building in Sacramento.


When the Kings’ new arena opens its doors in 2016, there’s little doubt thousands of visitors will find their way downtown to fill the seats. But most will head back out to the suburbs to find their beds since the River City’s urban core still remains more a place to visit than live.

Developer John Saca is hoping to help change that with the revival of his long-stalled, high-end condo and hotel project dubbed The Metropolitan that would revitalize J Street between 10th and 11th, a neglected block currently cluttered with shuttered storefronts and former city buildings.

Saca first conceived the project in 2005, combining a 190-room four-star (or higher) hotel with an equal number of luxury condos. But his main focus at the time was his hyper-ambitious plan to build two 53-story towers on Capitol Mall that would have been the tallest residential structures on the West Coast. Those plans included an InterContinental hotel, along with top-shelf retailers and restaurants. About 2,000 concrete piles were pounded into the ground before the housing crisis and economy killed the project.

Saca, however, still hopes to see The Metropolitan through. As of press time in mid-May, his family-owned company was on track to close escrow on the final parcel needed for the building’s footprint. While the developer is cautious about the timeline for breaking ground, he’s also confident it will happen—in 2015, he predicts, if the market continues to improve—and believes that high-density housing is the key to growth in the central city. “I think projects like this are as important as the arena,” he says. “The reality is we need residential downtown.”

If built, The Metropolitan promises to be the River City’s tallest building at 435 feet and 41 stories—12 feet higher than the Wells Fargo tower—with retail space on the ground floor. Designed by San Francisco-based Kwan Henmi Architecture & Planning, whose projects include Bay Area high-rises like the Soma Grand and The Paramount, it would incorporate modern interior elements into a soaring structure that plays off the traditional feel of the surroundings without being a “duplication of historical buildings,” says Denis Henmi, president of Kwan Henmi.

“Our initial design concept was a very contemporary building,” he explains. “And then as we went through the design process, we revised the base of the building to reflect the architectural style of the area, especially the new City Hall.” The changes included using more traditional materials like brick and stone and picking up on the color palette of nearby structures. “We took out a lot of the glass and added more punched openings to reflect the window pattern of some of the buildings in the area,” he adds.

What remained, however, was the concept of a luxury option for living that included the amenities of a hotel for homeowners, such as 24-hour room service, a spa and valet parking to name a few. (While no hotel partner has committed, Saca says he’s currently engaged in talks with several blue-chip brands). The condos would range in size from 750 square feet to penthouses that could top 5,000 (and cost upwards of $600 per square foot).

If the economic clouds continue to part, The Metropolitan could be one of the first residential towers to rise in a post-recession Sacramento. And the man who once promised the city’s tallest structure may finally be able to rise to the occasion himself.

Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art

Estimated Opening: Spring 2016-17

The Shrem Museum’s aluminum canopy will provide shade as well as a virtual light show on the ground as the sun passes overhead.

The Shrem Museum’s aluminum canopy will provide shade as well as a virtual light show on the ground as the sun passes overhead.


Driving on Interstate 80 past Davis, it’s hard to miss the striking Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. A model of architectural grace, it holds court on the highway like an epic roadside shrine to culture and serves as a symbol of the 5,300 acres of academic distinction hidden behind it.

But it’s about to be joined by another architectural icon that will both complement it and compete with it for attention.

In March, ground broke nearby on the new Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, a $30 million project that will immediately impact the school’s physical presence.

The structure is the product of an international design competition won last year by New York’s SO-IL architects and San Francisco’s Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. And it will stand as a striking visual counterpoint to the Mondavi’s vertical design. Instead, the aggressively horizontal structure will span nearly 50,000 square feet, anchored by a flowing, free-form aluminum canopy that doubles as the roof for the 29,000 feet of indoor space and a cover for the equally important outdoor area.

Whereas the Mondavi is a cocoon that wraps visitors in a protected interior soundscape, the Shrem, according to its architects, is centered on two concrete concepts: being a place of active experience inside and out, and capturing the charismatic qualities of sunlight intrinsic to the physical setting of Davis.

Situated just off I-80 and next to the Mondavi Center, the museum will establish a new creative nexus at UC Davis.

Situated just off I-80 and next to the Mondavi Center, the museum will establish a new creative nexus at UC Davis.

Architect Florian Idenburg of SO-IL (the SO stands for Solid Objectives and the IL for his last initial and that of Jing Liu, his wife and the firm’s co-founder), says one of the key issues they faced was understanding how the building could best serve its student population—a group that not only keeps unusual hours, but embraces a culture of collaboration and often rejects traditional hierarchies.

“There has been a trend with super iconic buildings, in which the graphics and very explicit forms were the only things that mattered,” explains Idenburg, who also teaches architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. “There’s a move away from that visual culture and the way we assess our space from just the way it looks to the way it is experienced. We wanted a creative place that was much more a part of the way stories are told and something that was much more free and open.”

To achieve that, the building itself is composed of sweeping glass walls, with more glass partitions inside, allowing deep views from the outside. “If you come by the museum after hours, you can look inside the museum and [still] have a significant art experience,” says Shrem’s founding director Rachel Teagle. Similarly, the surrounding landscape will be visible to those inside the space as well.

At night, the building will be lit, and outdoor activities like film screenings will draw students even when the museum is closed.

At night, the building will be lit, and outdoor activities like film screenings will draw students even when the museum is closed.

While that transparency is a fundamental element, the defining piece of the Shrem is its canopy, made of perforated aluminum folded back onto itself multiple times so that the resulting triangular shapes can be five layers thick in some places and strong enough to serve a structural function rather than just a decorative one. The punctured metal is secured to white steel beams that form abstract geometric shapes overhead. The result is an ever-changing natural light display underneath, dynamically transforming the moving sun into a complex show of illuminated patterns on the ground. Idenburg says the inspiration for the canopy came from the campus itself, specifically the play of light through the lush treetops of the arboretum. At night, the canopy will be softly lit.

In the end, Idenburg says that when the museum opens sometime during the 2016-17 school year, he wants visitors to be so taken with the organic animation of the canopy and the energy that the space fosters, that the structure will be an afterthought. “What we hope is that the moment you enter the threshold of the canopy, you feel its richness and grandiosity,” he says. “What you see is the activity, not the building itself.”