Mark Cavagnero Associates' design expands the conservatory’s community through innovations in glass and acoustics

Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center, the city’s performing arts district, the Ute & William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) was designed by Mark Cavagnero Associates (Cavagnero) as a “vertical campus” that incorporates student housing, dining, classrooms, rehearsal rooms, performance spaces, and a radio station all under one roof.


The Bowes Center is set in the heart of the Civic Center cultural and arts district. Photo credit: Tim Griffith

The Center is named in honor and recognition of the $46.4M gift from the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, which marks the largest capital gift ever made to a music school; the Foundation’s namesake was a longtime SFCM supporter and trustee. Walking distance to SFCM’s Ann Getty Center at 50 Oak Street, the Conservatory’s home since 2006, the Bowes Center creates housing for up to 420 students. The building also includes 27 rent-stabilized apartments, which upgrade and replace existing units from the site’s previous building for its prior tenants.


View of Bowes from the northwest. Photo credit: Tim Griffith

Cavagnero’s design emphasizes openness, engagement, and light through its exterior of white and transparent glass. Filled with the sights and sounds of music, the Bowes Center invites passersby at this active intersection to see performances through floor to ceiling windows in its ground floor jewel-box Cha Chi Ming Recital Hall. The top two floors glow like a beacon at night, with floor to ceiling windows, the 200-seat Barbro Osher Recital Hall, flexible event space, and roof terrace offering unparalleled views of City Hall, Davies Symphony Hall, the War Memorial Opera House, and other landmarks.


The top-floor Barbro Osher Recital Hall visually connects to the iconic dome of San Francisco's City Hall a block away. Photo credit: Tim Griffith


A rooftop terrace serves as an outdoor lounge and event space. Photo credit: Tim Griffith

Building on the firm’s innovations in the design of SFJAZZ, Cavagnero’s design for Bowes achieves the transparency of a glass exterior, while exceeding its rigorous acoustic requirements. To achieve a cohesive design language, while meeting its high acoustic demands—which change from floor to floor, with a mix of performance, practice, recording, and residential spaces throughout its twelve stories, and are made more complex by the neighboring Van Ness Avenue—the Cavagnero team designed a custom curtainwall system that integrates all acoustic requirements into one seamless envelope. Collaborating with Kirkegaard Associates, Tipping Structural Engineers, and curtainwall fabricator CS Erectors, Cavagnero pushed the boundaries of glass’s capacity to perform at high acoustic levels. The design utilizes double-glazed walls and a floating structural slab to isolate noise and vibration transmission from the street, while maintaining transparency into the performance spaces. The double-glazed system also provides a sustainable element to the design, creating additional thermal buffer.


The recital hall features floor to ceiling windows, engaging those passing by Van Ness Avenue and Hayes Street. Photo credit: Kyle Jeffers


The top-floor Barbro Osher Recital Hall, seen here during an evening performance. Photo credit: Tim Griffith

On the Bowes Center’s second level, the Center for New Media features studio space, lesson rooms, and critical listening rooms for students participating in the Conservatory’s Technology and Applied Composition Program. Capitalizing on the school’s location in the performing arts district, and proximity to Silicon Valley, the program prepares classically trained composers to score film and video games. The center is also used by students in SFCM’s Roots, Jazz, and American Music Program, created in partnership with SFJAZZ. Classrooms, keyboard labs, a black box Technology Hall, and a recording studio for all SFCM students are located in highly acoustically controlled spaces in the below ground levels. Floors three through 11 hold one, two, and three-bedroom housing units, each acoustically isolated for practicing. One floor is dedicated to housing for San Francisco Ballet Students as an extension of the Conservatory’s unprecedented partnership with the nearby SF Ballet.


Music classrooms are highly acoustically-controlled spaces custom-designed for the Conservatory. Box-in-box construction provides acoustic separation needed for a drummer to practice in a room next door to a violinist. Photo credit: Kyle Jeffers


Studio G, a black-box Technology Hall in the building’s basement level, is a flexible performance space with a state-of-the-art recording studio. Photo credit: Kyle Jeffers


The top-floor Barbro Osher Recital Hall is capable of seating an audience of 200 people, and provides a backdrop of the city hall dome with a visual connection to the surrounding context of the arts district. Photo credit: Kyle Jeffers


Student suites provide affordable housing for SFCM students in the heart of San Francisco. Student suites provide affordable housing for SFCM students in the heart of San Francisco. Student suites provide affordable housing for SFCM students in the heart of San Francisco. Photo credit: Tim Griffith

About Mark Cavagnero Associates

Mark Cavagnero Associates’ vision is responsive to the ever-evolving need to unify the social and built environments. The firm consistently pursues design solutions that will ensure long-term benefits for their communities to build resources that will last for generations. In pursuit of innovation, Cavagnero investigates design concepts through an iterative process that resolves complex design issues with clarity and simplicity.

Through the values instilled by founder, Mark Cavagnero, the firm is especially sensitive to the cultural heritage and the legacy of place. Adhering to this philosophy by carefully investigating the alignment of each client’s program with a site’s cultural roots and social patterns of place, Cavagnero designs a specific response to each context.

The firm was founded in 1988 as Barnes and Cavagnero, and in 1993 became Mark Cavagnero Associates, grounded in a set of core values with a strong focus on public and institutional projects, and a belief in the power of collaboration and community building. Cavagnero consists of over 70 multi-disciplinary professionals who are committed to its socially- and environmentally conscious practice, which has made significant contributions to San Francisco’s civic life.