Give Input On New Public Art Installation For 500 Pine Street's Rooftop

You might be aware of the massive construction projects going on at 350 Bush St. and 500 Pine St., which we reported on a year ago, but you might not know about the fifth-floor rooftop garden connected to St. Mary's Park planned for 500 Pine, which will include a prominent and permanent piece of public art.

What will that art look like and what will it bring to the community? Everyone has a say. From more than 100 submissions from 64 cities and 13 countries, a panel has narrowed the finalists to three. Now, the public is asked to give input on the designs, which are not final representations, but works in progress.

Renderings of the designs and booklets of information about them and the artists—including numerous renderings and views—will be on display at the center during its regular hours from 10am–4pm Tuesdays through Saturdays from May 10–14, and comment sheets are provided for feedback.


Jenny Leung of the Chinese Culture Center displays an information booklet about one of the designs. (Photo: Geri Koeppel/Hoodline)

The initial designs and teams behind them were unveiled to the press yesterday morning at the Chinese Culture Center, which is the lead organization for the St. Mary's Public Art process, along with community members and organizations, the arts community, the San Francisco Arts Commission and the architect, Heller Manus. The finalists are:

  • Acrylicize, a consultancy out of London and Seattle that creates high-concept art installations for public, commercial, and residential spaces.
  • Sarah Sze, a New York-based contemporary artist who uses everyday objects and traces of human behavior to create intricate sculptures and installations.
  • Shin Gray Studio, a Los Angeles-based team of two artists—Kyungmi Shin and Todd Gray—who create artworks for public venues.

We asked Abby Chen, artistic director for the Chinese Culture Foundation, what people are seeking in this work. "Given the past experience we've had with public art feedback," she said, "first of all, the community really wants to look forward. They want something honoring the past, but also looking forward." And they want a high-quality artwork, she added. There's very little open space and green space in densely populated Chinatown, so it's important to have a vibrant piece of art to activate the space, she said.

The address is also significant, Chen noted, because it's the former location of Kong Chow Temple, a historic building operated by Kong Chow Benevolent Association. It was founded in 1854 by immigrants from China and today continues to operate as a social and cultural hub at 855 Stockton St. A plaque on the street level will share the history

Breathe" by Acrylicize. (Rendering: Acrylicize)

The design by Acrylicize, "Breathe," resembles an oversized pine cone and would include various lighting schematics and the ability to move, with the panels folding up or down. "Similar to a real pine cone which is closed during damp weather and opens as it dries out to release its seeds, the artwork will respond to the San Francisco climate," the proposal notes.

The inspiration for the design comes partly from the pine tree, the traditional Chinese symbol of prosperity. Also, the proposal states it was inspired by the Kong Chow Temple and the cultural significance of the curved roofs of important buildings.


"Book of Rocks" by Sara Sze, proposed and represented by ARS CITIZEN, a San Francisco nonprofit. (Rendering: Sarah Sze/ARS CITIZEN)

Sarah Sze's proposal, "Book of Rocks," includes several large boulders split in half. "The flat surface of each split rock will be engraved with a highly pixelated dot-matrix full-color image of a contemporary landscape," the proposal notes. "On the ground near each rock will be a painted impression of the same image, as if the rock had turned over and functioned as a printmaking stamp, fixing the image in place through force of ink, gravity, and pressure."

The project "references ancient forms of mark making, such as a Chinese Chop or Seal," and also "explores the fragility of time passing and our desire for weight and permanence in the face of both overwhelming natural forces and the ubiquitous images that surround us daily."


"Human Being—Being Human" by Shin Gray Studio. (Rendering: Shin Gray Studio)

Shin Gray Studio's concept, "Human Being—Being Human" is inspired by the Chinese character “人” which translates as “a person,” “people,” or “a human," according to its proposal. Each of the two figures have cut letter details that spell out the wishes from the current Kong Chow Temple.

It also notes, "We wanted to create an artwork that symbolized this brotherhood, the human connection and assistance the early benevolent association provided to the weary immigrants who did not have any legal protection from the U.S. government and faced a hostile environment around them."

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Public art installation 500 pine street rooftop