As she winds down her second four-year term as Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi has been feted with numerous accolades, from the honorary title of "Speaker Emerita” to an HBO documentary made by her daughter.
Tucked into the massive end-of-year congressional spending package known as the “omnibus bill” was one more. Amid funds for first responders, humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and aid to hurricane-ravaged coastlines, the legislation renamed the Federal Building at 90 Seventh St. in SoMa as the “Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building.”
Built by architect Thom Payne of Morphosis, the asymmetric, metal-sheathed structure that seems considerably taller than its official 18 stories was completed in 2007. Since its debut, it has polarized architectural critics, with some dazzled by its novelty and others underwhelmed by its fortress-like quality and, well, perceived ugliness.
It was undoubtedly ahead of its time, though. The first federal building to be LEED-certified, it was praised for deriving 80% of its interior illumination from natural sources—although later reappraisals snubbed it as a “flash of isolated drama” incapable of beautifying its surroundings.
If this kind of thing is your vibe, it arguably power-clashes nicely with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a Beaux-Arts masterpiece directly across Seventh Street. But its windswept plaza remained squalid and barren, and in 2021, a restoration put up fences designed to shoo away drug dealers.
As San Francisco’s congressional representative, Pelosi’s district office has long been located there. Still, it’s perhaps appropriate that it should be renamed for her, as her late-career foil President Donald Trump singled out this very building when his administration issued a 2020 edict to “make federal buildings beautiful again.”
Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]