The scene: the unveiling of the conceptual design for the new Creative Arts Building at San Francisco State University. Waiters passed around wine and hors d’oeuvres, there was a pianist and everyone was dressed up. The architect, dressed in black with shiny black boots and a shaved head, talked about Architecture.

Courtesy Michael Maltzan Architecture

We all got to see the model.

Courtesy Michael Maltzan Architecture


It really is a sexy building.

I was invited because I played a key role on the project: I got the utility pipes moved to accommodate the building.

It took two years and we needed permission from

  • the Department of Public Works;
  • Public Utilities Commission staff (and Commission);
  • Planning Department;
  • City committees with acronyms like CULCOP and TASC;
  • City Attorney’s Office;
  • Department of Real Estate;
  • a title company and an appraiser;
  • two Board of Supervisor Committee hearings;
  • And four votes by the full Board of Supervisors.

Here’s what we did:

Okay, it’s not much to look at.


The building was designed by an architect named Michael Maltzan from Los Angeles, but probably it was designed by a half dozen anonymous architects in his office. Plus hundreds of mechanical engineers and structural engineers and lighting people and geotechnical engineers and landscape architects. And campus planners and the people who put together the bond issue to pay for it and the voters who voted for it. And Mr. Mashouf who made an enormously generous contribution to get it started and the fund raisers who asked him for the gift. And the people who made the stuff that gets put together into the shape of a building and then the people who put it together.

We make a mistake when we think a building is “by” the architect in the way a painting is by an artist.

A Jackson Pollock really is by Jackson Pollock.


We take for granted all those pipes and wires which bring us water, take water away, heat our coffee, bring the juice to our lightbulbs and the pictures to our televisions. If they weren’t where they should be we’d look for someone to blame. But they do work, so next time you take a cold drink from your fridge drink a toast, please, to the armies of people who made it possible.