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FROM THE GROUND UP by Douglas Frantz

FROM THE GROUND UP

The Business of Building in the Age of Money

By Douglas Frantz

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1991
ISBN: 0-8050-0996-5
Publisher: Henry Holt

 Lively exposÇ of the construction of Rincon Center, a mixed- use complex (apartments, offices, shops, restaurants) in San Francisco. In 1984, the city made available a single square block for building, which Ron Verrue, a developer, thought might be the last chance in some years to erect a large tower in the city. He formed a partnership with a large contracting company and a structural engineer and submitted the winning bid for the site. Los Angeles Times correspondent Frantz (Selling Out, 1989, etc.) writes vividly of the multilayered, byzantine financing assembled by the developer, the bottom line of which is never to risk your own money. The most important instrument of the initial financing was raising cash by selling--to investors looking for tax write- offs--huge paper-losses on the early years of the construction loan. The greater part of Frantz's lively account concerns Scott Johnson--Harvard whiz-kid and protÇgÇ of architect Philip Johnson (no relation)--who became the chief architect of the project. Johnson considered himself primarily a visual artist, an ``aesthete'' in his words, although he also said that ``Architecture today must be responsive...to the community, to the clients.'' When Allan Temko, Pulitzer-winning architecture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, called Johnson's twin towers design ``purloined'' from Philip Johnson and Cesar Pelli, Johnson turned all his interest to the atrium--where he could show off his stuff--and spent a year squabbling with the city over the color of its glass and searching for an artist who could design a dramatic ``water event'' (fountain). Johnson was unable to make the building livable from the walls in; another architect had to be hired to follow him around cleaning up the messes. After Johnson left the project, several million dollars were spent redesigning and rebuilding the apartments. There is so much money in big construction that the project survived the Tax Reform Act of 1986--which cut out its main financial base, a $25 million cost overrun--and still turned a profit. An absorbing and lucid account of this business. (Eight pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)