Focusing on slots contests the prevalent bird’s eye view of the city and a gaze arrested by façade and decorative form, compelling instead an unornamented physiognomy of urban space drawn from situated experience. It problematizes our normative modes of perception: of figure against ground, solid against void, and light against shadow pointing to a perceptual conundrum of overlooking marginal, yet meaningful spaces of the city. Mapping and documenting slots provides a matrix of spatial geometries; an archive of historic forms replete with interpretive potential that can be explored through casting and lighting; experimental processes that produce objects and images hitherto unseen, which trigger the imagination and inform architectural design in transformative ways.

Tanu Sankalia
Asst. Prof. University of San Francisco

The emergence of slots is inextricably linked to the indivisible relationship between house design and land subdivision. Between 1850 and 1900, as San Francisco expanded to the west from its initial north-east downtown nucleus, surveyors used a grid form in conjunction with the Spanish vara (1 vara = 2.75 feet = 83 cm) unit of measurement to lay out the pattern of streets, blocks and open spaces. This survey (know as the 50 vara survey) resulted in blocks that had six square lots of 50 varas each and that measure 275 feet x 412 ½ feet (84 m x 126 m). Over time, the 50 vara lots were further subdivided, or “short-platted” to result in parcels that had a variety of dimensional combinations with the most common being 27.5 feet x 137.5 feet (8.4 m x 41.9 m), 25 feet x 100 feet or 137.5 feet (7.6 m x 30.5 m or 41.9 m), and with some parcels being 30 feet wide. The narrow lots forced a linear plan organization, and builders responded to these apparent constraints by introducing deep recesses in the facades of houses so as to provide daylight in interior rooms.