There is perhaps no place in America more loathed than the Department of Motor Vehicles.
This sentiment—a feeling caught between boredom, dread, and anger—is ingrained in American consciousness. The buildings themselves reinforce these misgivings; they are banal structures in desperate search of an architectural vocabulary.
Yet, as an institution, the DMV is absolutely essential. It is a profoundly democratic space where almost everyone, regardless of social or economic status, must go. It is the gatekeeper to mobility, provides a rite of passage into adulthood, and is a place where individuals are given identity. Ironically though, its architecture lacks this very thing—identity. The DMV is clearly civic, but unlike court houses, or even post offices, they do not look civic. They are made of stucco rather than stone; they sit on parking lots rather than podiums. With the DMV there exists a stark misalignment between its extraordinary institutional importance and its utterly generic expression.
It is time for the DMV to be remade.
This project proposes a new design for the San Francisco DMV field office. Located between a prominent public parkway and commercial strip on one axis, and Victorian row houses on the other, the building provides a structure for new civic expression. It is a thin space where surface and frame are given equal attention; a space that simultaneously recognizes its own conflicted nature— between the monumental and the mundane, significance and anonymity, people and cars, freedom and control. This is San Francisco’s new DMV.