Kenta Oye

BArch Alumnus Kenta Oye Wins 2020 Unbuilt Design Merit Award + Urban Design Commendation

Jury Comments: Urban planning in San Francisco has confined ethnic neighborhoods into inhuman urban spaces. The design approach aims to nurture the uses of intimate streetscapes. The response is to pave an urban aperture bridging Market and Mission streets as a continuous fabric revealing and reclaiming the lost layers of time.

There is great urbanism here; a refreshing change from stereotypical glass boxes and a compelling process of shaping the building form in response to the urban circumstance.

AIA SF 2020 Award Webpage

Keep up with Kenta’s latest achievements via her LinkedIn!

Infilling the Void

Urban planning in San Francisco has confined ethnic neighborhoods into inhuman urban spaces. Being fourth generation Japanese-American, my ancestors used to inhabit and thrive in the urban environment. But, over the course of several generations, the Japanese community has been displaced and pushed out into the rural areas along the West Coast mostly farming as a main source of income. San Francisco was the first city the Japanese community migrated to and at that time, there was a small portion of neighborhoods that allowed this community to find their place in a new country. From the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s, Chinatown, South Park, and South of Market were the pockets of the city fabric that allowed the Japanese community to call home. But, after the devastating 1906 Earthquake, Chinatown and South Park has managed to maintain their identity as a thriving neighborhood leaving the South of Market site to become Terrain Vague.

Encompassed between 5th, Market, 7th, and Mission streets is where the first Japan town took root in 1900. This 22 acre site consists of two SOMA blocks that was occupied by Irish, Japanese, and Scandinavian immigrant workers and their families. Most of the Japanese owned buildings populated the alleys which became the vehicle to navigating through the areas of this neighborhood. It became very clear this community was confined within the fabric of the site hidden from the public realm of Market Street. Today, the use of the alleys in this area has been converted to back of house accommodations continuing to conceal the identity of what this neighborhood represented and how it contributed to San Francisco. The design agenda aims to re-purpose the intimate streetscapes to reveal the lost layers of the site by activating the fabric of the alleys.

The project site occupies the footprint of an old community center that spans between Market Street and Stevenson St. The design opportunity points to a new urban corridor to bridge Market St. and the existing Mint Plaza activating the fabric of Stevenson St. The building will be a cultural center that borrows characteristics of a Museum and Immigration Center. The programmatic strategy will pair a series of ceramic, wood, and sewing galleries with adjacent workshops intended to blur cultural boundaries by providing spaces to congregate, exchange ideas, and share experiences through the process of making. The gallery component is inspired by the book, The Art of Gaman, which documents a collection of artifacts produced by those forced into the Japanese Internment Camps. This book not only has a deep connection to my and many other Japanese families today, but it also represents the resiliency of a minority community that endured the unbearable with patience and dignity. The act of making was the carthasis that allowed this community to cope with their harsh situation.