As new SFPUC building construction lags, artwork goes on 

A San Francisco artist will be paid $1.1 million for a creative installation on the exterior of a new city building that had construction halted due to escalating costs.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is constructing a $190 million headquarters near Civic Center that was intended to be the greenest building in The City and most sustainable in the world. Construction of the 13-floor building, which was slated to open in 2012, was halted in 2008 because of escalating costs.

To cut costs, the design team scrapped advanced green perks such as microfilm, solar panel-embedded windows and a natural ventilation system with automated windows on every floor. Instead, solar panels will line the roof and windows will be adjusted manually with a centralized natural ventilation system, according to the SFPUC. The changes are supposed to be equally as efficient.

But despite construction-budget woes and San Francisco’s overwhelming deficit, local artist Ned Kahn will be granted a $1.1 million contract to install thousands of hinged, clear polycarbonate panels, about 5 square inches each, to drape on the north side of a wind turbine’s facade. The “LED Firefly,” or Firefly Wall, would have a rippling effect for the entire 13 stories.

Kahn, who grew up in The City, is an artist known nationally for replicating natural phenomena with scientific and showy strategies, and he also could score a $300,000 contract to create a “rain portal” that simulates rainfall on the lobby stairwell.

However, the hands of SFPUC officials are tied when it comes to the public-art budget because a city ordinance requires the price tag to increase as the costs of construction escalate. New municipal buildings must set aside 2 percent of hard-construction costs for public art.

Funds not allocated to Kahn’s projects will be spent on other projects. The Arts Commission is considering asking a photographer to find historic SFPUC pictures and use glass laminate to install them on conference-room windows for a subtle and still-see-through effect.

Designs on the exterior are meant to reflect the building’s green interior.

“The arts projects and many other educational building components are about reconnecting people to the importance of water and clean energy,” SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue said.



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