A New App for Discovering the City That Might Have Been
By Ritu Garg
September 17, 2013

Use the Phantom City app to discover never-built structures such as these ones, conceived by Renzo Piano in 2006, which would have resulted in 1,200 foot towers on First and Mission streets. 

In connection with our current exhibition, SPUR is thrilled to announce The Museum of the Phantom City: Unbuilt San Francisco, a free phone app that brings lost treasures of architecture and planning into contemporary life. Created by Irene Cheng and Brett Snyder, the Phantom City iPhone app evokes an alternate city on a mobile phone platform by mapping architectural designs and master plans that were conceived but never built.

First brought to life with the support of the Van Alen Institute’s New York Prize Fellowship, the app initially featured visionary projects in New York and then Chicago. In its latest incarnation, the Museum of the Phantom City has expanded to San Francisco. Launched as part of our five-institution exhibition Unbuilt San Francisco, the new version enables all who walk the city to discover visions from the past that once competed with what exists today. When juxtaposed with reality, these designs provoke questions about what we accept as ordinary components of the city. Why not erect a skyscraper at Lands End? Why not run a freeway through the Panhandle Parkway? Or put a casino on Alcatraz? These concepts were all considered and for various reasons abandoned. They may sound outlandish to us now, but had they been realized, would we feel differently about them?

Orange dots plot the unbuilt projects on a Google map of the city. Tap on the dot and the app calls up images and information relating to visions that might have been. Each dot, once activated, invites the user to rediscover a familiar place through a dreamer’s eyes. This virtual archive of unrealized San Francisco projects is the product of a collective effort by the San Francisco Public Library, the Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley, the American Institute of Architects, the California Historical Society and SPUR. Consistent with the intention of its creators, the app transports the lessons and pleasures of history and architecture, traditionally confined to remote sources, to the palm of anyone curious.

Download the free app on iTunes >>


Ritu Garg is an editorial intern at SPUR.

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