The Acropalypse

44 thoughts on “The Acropalypse”

  1. They don’t look too bad…. as someone pointed out, they have nice roofs, but as you pointed out, they do look a little Ramada-ish (but, of course, most contemporary hotels are designed to look okay-to-good, right?? We’ve just become bored with “okay”.

    I would want bigger windows, esp if I am living in the “Heights” — right??

    Another thing I’d want that this doesn’t seem to have: a very visible and high-end looking community area with big windows — I’ve seen this a lot in new multifamily construction in Richmond VA in more desirable suburban areas — they’ve borrowed an idea from the very expensive single family home developments that have very visible ammenities like a beautiful clubhouse associated with another ammenity — like a pool or “park”.

    Back around with that ticky-tacky song was made famous by Seeger (I think it MAY have been my first favorite song, other than the Batman Theme, because my parents were liberal intellectuals who played such things on their turntable) my maternal grandparents lived in a TRAILER PARK in the Carlsbad, CA area and my greatgrandfather lived in an ugly assisted living tower in Carlsbad-by-the-sea —- the trailer park was GATED, with a guard, was separate from other residences (I remember it the area looked like a desert, and they were always stingy with water) and the trailers with their detatched garages (my grandfather, a retired pathologist, used his as a workshop, and I have a endtable he made just adjacent to me as I type) — ANYHOW, the point is they had a REALLY NICE CLUBHOUSE with outdoor pool that my grandmother swam in every morning and that they drank martinis at and stumbled home every night from — even though their house was something that would be considered an embarrassment anywhere else — it was all about 1. location 2. remoteness from troublemakers and 3. ammenities —– one thing I have seen: you make the ammenities nice enough, people don’t care about the living quarters so much….

  2. Johnny, what are the several layers under the built level of the Acropalypse: parking or just supporting structures? They look like parking but then the townhouse seem to already have garages.

  3. I think it’s got good bones. In an era of declining prosperity, I can see how it could be adapted to more dense living a la South-East Asia. Garage spaces become workshops or storefronts. Raised gardens or building material or wares for sale get stacked on the footpath as far as the curb. The gates get opened during the day and closed at night like a medieval fort town.

    Certainly it’s more permissive of human habitation than the rock it replaced. All you need is a loosening of the current social standards and legal restrictions, and it’s got enough density to make a nice little neighbourhood. It’ll get there.

  4. I’m amazed at the engineering required to execute the project. Truly impressive. I wonder how much the land came at a discount in order to justify the additional site costs.

    If you want new housing then it will be something that answers the development equation today. The market will pay a certain price per sf and there are only so many to get there on cost of land, construction, and debt. As expensive as construction is, land is still relatively more – therefore we get more density.

    I love older, less dense housing types too, but they are hermit crab shells. You can’t make them here and good luck finding another one.

  5. San Francisco, draws you into a dream world, like bugs to a flame. I’m not immune in any stretch of the imagination, even at an older and supposedly wiser age. But I swear to never to return, but will most likely have a brain fart and find myself standing on a forlorn and littered corner in SF wondering and bewildered at the cities impenetrable, illusory and grotesque dreamscape as I stare gawking at this maelstrom at the center of a Steve Cutts animation. Hey, I was there in the 60’s when it seemed fun, now it’s not fun,

  6. Hi Johnny,

    There’s a bit of a lack of green space in there. Oh well. Hey as a resident of the south eastern corner of Australia and self builder living in a rural area, an unusual aspect of most, but not all of the buildings in the photos stands out: The roofs don’t seem to have enough pitch in order to easily shed water during a very heavy rainstorm. Plus if the climate gets too hot, then having the roof a bit further elevated away from the internal ceiling height keeps the house cooler as a consequence. Dunno, maybe it doesn’t rain much there and also doesn’t get too hot?

    Plus hope they knew what they were doing with those earthworks… 🙂



    1. You and I are on the same page when it comes to architecture that responds to the climate in a traditional pre-industrial manner. But builders and home buyers have no interest in such things these days. The furnace/air conditioner does all the heavy lifting. Will these arrangements last forever? Probably not. But no one is looking much past the next few decades. Shrug.

  7. I hope the downslope folks are comfortable with gravity’s tendency to level heights to lowlands – looking at Chelsea court there, and wondering if they fear what’s looming above.

  8. There is a concept I like that refers to a change along a previously unknown dimension that changes reality in unexpected ways. Imagine a debate in NYC about urban planning right before the invention of the elevator. The elevator made the skyscraper and tall buildings possible and changed everthing. Imagine discussing urban planning and commuting in new york when the idea of a train and then underground subway became possible. Changed everything. The automobile, and then again the highways, later, same thing.
    What could happen now. Autonomous vehicles could eliminate the need for parking. Garages could become stores. Autonomous food trucks could become cafes and restaurants set up where parkjng used to be. Cheap prefab tiny houses could increase density. 3d printing couldmake additions cheap and easy. Lawns could be converted to small footprint towers.
    Dont count reality’s ability to innovate out. It might just surprise you, and things might end up being better than you expect.

  9. My take as a local: this isn’t a perverse version of the white flight gated community phenom. Those buyers are long gone. Rather, KB homes is targeting the multi-generational Asian American families already renting in the immediate area. In other words, the genetic cousin of this platypus is an upscale townhouse in Manila, not a McMansion:

  10. I thank Gaia for our abode – a modest mid-90’s modular on an 50×140 not a mile from our small *port city downtown – overplanted to the hilt, cohabitating with the honeybees, hen’s, and whatever local flora, and fauna (mainly avians and insects) choose to visit..
    It’s the yard/surrounds, not the house, that I cherish .. not much of an urban creature .. though, in the past, spent a fair time in the sub/urban interface space. In this tut time and place, it means more to me than possessing a multitude of human ‘likes’ ..

    *nw Washington State

    1. “*NW Washington State/Port city downtown”

      Me too, and its very nice, but dang, is it getting expensive here! My water bill is eye-watering.

  11. This subdivision captures the problem often identified on the Strong Towns blog. In that most stuff today gets built from top to bottom as a finished neighborhood and then can only start to slowly decline. It would probably have been a much more interesting and vibrant neighborhood if it had been allowed to evolve and develop naturally over the past 50 years the way cities used to be built. How does one go about remodeling and improving something like this in 30 years? I don’t see how you can. It will just eventually evolve into rentals and lower income housing until it is finally ready to be bulldozed. Because there doesn’t appear any way that an individual owner can actually do anything different from what is already a finished product.

  12. One thing i noticed while visiting SF how the lack of street level retail in most neighborhoods made walking much less pleasant than Manhattan or Brooklyn or even Queens. It seemed like you could go for very long stretches where the only thing facing the street was garage doors.

  13. Wow, I’m just looking at those pictures and wondering why anyone would want to live there? I suppose “doing the best you can” is the only way to look at it.

    1. I’m guessing the height accords a view of something…ocean, bay, valley and opposite hills/mountains. Some people pay extra for that.

  14. One of these was built on a high hill in the Massachusetts town just outside Boston where I’ve lived for the last 20 years. I call it The Ski Lodge because I mostly only see it in winter when the leaves are off the trees on our hill opposite. But Acropalypse has a nice ring to it.

  15. My gut reaction to these pictures is “This is a jail. Or a compound. Somewhere you want to escape, not move to.” I don’t know why. It creeps me out. Maybe I’m in that kind of mood; but it looks to me like the place where people go to die (but maybe they don’t plan to)

  16. The Acropalypse says it all! That is some not very good architecture…but I’m sure it probably jumped through the Design Review Board hoop along the way to being constructed.

  17. When you said “non-gated subdivision, no matter how ersatz” did you mean “gated subdivision…”?

    When Pres. Trump warned that the Democrats would be forcing affordable housing into the suburbs, I heard (NPR) and read (Wash Post), that “affordable housing” is code for “low-income” is code for “minority”, and because “everybody knows that Trump’s a racist”, this just proves it again. 60 years ago, maybe “low-income” was code for “undesirable minority”, (where any White was preferred over any Black) but now I think it’s the other way around. “Diversity” is code for “undesirable low-income”, and any Rich is preferred over any Poor. My city and county are full of high-income racially-diverse households. If the pairings and groupings that I saw out on the bike trail this morning were typical, we’ve become color-blind. But none of them welcome low-income people of any color.

    1. Yes. It seems all class-based now. However, often phoney and forced race-based trangressions are being cynically used by monied/power/media entities as a method of drawing in various societal factions to be at odds with one aother, in continual confusion and discord – just the way the top %ers like it !

      1. Inland from the coasts, to most suburbanites, “low income” = “Black and Latino”. Folks use the “percentage of free and reduced-price lunches” in a school system as another proxy.

      2. It has always been this way. Why do you think coastal elite whites are always pissing on middle-American whites?

        But marketing is powerful and in many locations a gated subdivision, no matter how ersatz, will sell at a higher price than one that’s exposed to the unwashed masses next door.

        Another great post, Johnny. The gates, while stupifyingly-easy to penetrate, keep toddlers in, slow-down traffic, and keep trailers cooking meth out. There are no “public” spaces in which someone can put up a tent and shoot dope into their arm. IOW, they seem to keep things barely-civilized inside. I don’t know if you follow “Street People of Los Angeles” on IG, but that’s where a lot of big and even medium-sized cities are headed. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

        The Wellington Acrocalypse at least has good-looking buildings built with roofs with actual pitches rather than the hideous boxes of the Aughts and 2010s. Year Zero!

    2. It’s only partly about race, and the leftists would make more headway if they acknowledged that certain white folks, “privilege “ and all, are victims of this too. One Donald did, and became President.

  18. It’s definitely not “the best we can do,” but “it’ll do.” So much of what we have is… good enough. It’s laughable how San Francisco has a reputation for fabulous Victorian architecture, while its streetscape is littered with budget boxes put up by people trying cobble together something that’s economically feasible. Yes, here and there are pricey Victorians and new-money super-homes, but all over are little boxes, racked and stacked, home to the many thousands of “ordinary” San Franciscans who are just getting by with no fat to spare.

    Internet developers laugh about how the prototype becomes the product: you built something that worked and did the job, thinking you would later make it perfect, but that day never came, and you just kept tweaking the thing you built, often in a rush, to make it work another day, week, month.

    Real estate developers are running the numbers, hoping to find a formula for a particular plot that’ll pencil out. I’m sure it’s not easy.

    Lost in all this is the unfortunate reality that it pays best to build for the highest end of the market, and so we have little to nothing built for people with “average” incomes.

    1. There’s an old Catholic saying. Help the poor and you’re a saint. Ask why the poor are poor and you’re a heretic. in 1950 the cost of an average home in Cleveland was exactly the same as the cost of an average home in San Francisco. Why is today’s spread between different markets so huge? Why is there such a huge gap between the rich and poor? Those are different questions…

      1. Why the relative change/spread in prices?

        1. People want to live in SF. Cleveland, not so much. Demand, driven by climate, geography, opportunities. I’d suggest the first two (plus the increase in automobility) led to a lot of the third during and since the Cold War. Those original aerospace and Fairchild engineers were largely from colder climates “back East” as Californians put it.

        2. The easily-built spaces in the Bay Area are already developed, and what’s left is these odd hilly sites, while Cleveland is surrounded by miles and miles of flat (by comparison) farmland. No geomorphological limits on sprawl as on the Coast.

        1. I was thinking more about how in 1950 any white guy with a high school diploma who could roll out of bed at a decent hour and keep his drinking under control until the factory whistle blew at 5 o’clock could support a family. Now? Not so much…

          1. Even up into the 60s.

            There is occasionally a useful nugget on my social media feed. Yesterday’s was the percentage of gross personal income going to the highest-earning 10% plotted vs. the unionization rate. They were almost perfect mirror-inverse plots…which illustrates your point, but only so far. How and why did the top 10% “grab” more income?

            It’s the factories, and the financial (over?)leveraging of manufacturing (and everything else). Automation fed by debt, not NAFTA or China, was the job-killer. US steel and auto factories today produce as much as they did 40 years ago with a fraction of the labor required, and with a far higher debt load than was considered prudent when I learned management and finance. And the losses weren’t limited to line work; investment in computerization and software eliminated clerical, secretarial, and professional jobs (accounting, material control/supply chain, drafting/engineering, etc.).

            The second paragraph illustrates the first: Baby Boomers on the factory floor and in the factory office were getting expensive as they got their raises and company-paid pensions and company-paid health care. Managers did what managers do, and analyzed the costs of investment in automation vs. labor. Voila: fewer jobs for Bud and Ace (and people like me who did have degrees and worked in the factory offices).

            1. I meant to add, and didn’t, that a company with 50% debt and 50% equity (1:1 debt:equity) on its balance sheet was considered “leveraged”. 67% debt and 33% equity (2:1) was considered “highly leveraged” and “risky”. Anyone holding those standards today is considered hopelessly out of touch and old-fashioned.

              Like me. 🙂

  19. Daly City, eh, which houses were disparaged and perhaps forever immortalized by Pete Seeger.

    Communities are under considerable pressure from the state to meet their affordable housing quotas, which at present are about 55% for the affordable, below market rates homes and 45% for market rate. They are, as you note, unprofitable to build, so the sales of the market rate units have to pay for them. Likely they were part of a density bonus, so the market rate units are a bit smaller and a bit less attractive than they might otherwise be, both because they are smaller and often because of the proximity of the affordable units. So, the financial viability can become difficult. Little gets built and what gets built is often unattractive but they might enable to a city to tick a box.

    While I don’t disagree that successful surburban areas might get denser with time, I don’t think your essay adequately addresses the laws that are forcing these types of developments.

    1. Laws that force “affordable” housing are one of the boxes that need to be ticked. But many (perhaps even most) municipalities simply ignore the state mandates or find creative ways of redefining the various parameters. For example, how many new affordable units have been built in Beverly Hills in the last decade? For every law there are plenty of lawyers crafting work-arounds, at least for those who can afford them.

    2. Little boxes on the hillside
      Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
      Little boxes on the hill side
      Little boxes all the same
      written by Malvina Reynolds

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