Colorful Abstract Panels To Grace Soma Condos

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San Francisco - Dorothy Lenehan suggested a mix of Jackson Pollock and Betty Crocker as she artfully sprinkled crushed green glass over a canvas of glass panels spread across the floor of her West Oakland studio. "It's like sifting powdered sugar on a cake," said Lenehan, who, like Pollock, hails from the hills of Wyoming. She brings a sense of wide-open Western spaces to the architectural glass works she creates for urban settings.

There's a rich feeling of landscape in the enormous piece that Lenehan has been working on for two years - a 5,000-square-foot textured glass mural in floating greens, blue, orange-red and tawny gold that will wrap around three sides of a new 22-story condo tower on Mission Street between Seventh and Eighth streets, next to the dramatic new Thom Mayne-designed Federal Building. There's a suggestion of green hills, streams and a slashing bolt of lightning in this abstracted glass terrain, which brings to mind Richard Diebenkorn and Asian landscape painting.

Composed of 390 panels, most about 2-by-7 feet and 1/4-inch thick, the mural titled "Realm" is the biggest piece of glass art in the city. Three stories tall, it cost $800,000. (As required by local planning law, 1 percent of the construction cost has to be used for art.) Set in a shoji screen-like aluminum grid on the new Soma Grand building, the mural brings a blast of color to a gritty mixed-use neighborhood that's being transformed by a rash of commercial and residential construction. A 32-story InterContinental hotel has risen a few blocks away at Fifth and Howard streets. All those funky parking lots are disappearing, and palm trees now grow on Sixth Street.

Soma Grand - where one-bedroom condos start at $515,000 and a penthouse already sold for $2.8 million - was designed by Mill Valley's Architecture International for developers AGI Capital and TMG Partners. The graceful buff-colored concrete and green-glass tower rises over the low-lying annex of the bold 18-story Federal Building and offers views in all directions (it's perched above the magnificent Beaux Arts-style U.S. Court of Appeals Building on Seventh Street). It's billed as the first condominium project in the area to feature "boutique hotel" concierge and other services, provided by Chip Conley's Joie de Vivre Hospitality firm. Homeless people may still roam mid-Market Street, but gentrification has arrived on Mission. "They wanted color, something dynamic that would identify the building," said the lively Lenehan, 56, who has done work for many private homes and corporate clients, among them AT&T, Charles Schwab and the Postrio restaurant in Las Vegas. She made the colorful gates inside the Union Square entrance to Macy's and worked on a glass-and-boulder piece at Larry Ellison's 16th century Japanese-style spread in Woodside.

The Soma Grand architects liked Lenehan's work and chose her for this job because "we were looking for an artist who was willing to collaborate for the greater good of the project," said Sherry Caplan, who designed the building with partners John Sheehy and Bill Higgins. "We wanted to literally integrate the mural into a grid that was part of the architectural expression so that the art and architecture became one." Lenehan came up with a number of visual schemes, some chic Minimalist abstractions, others with more representational imagery, before she hit on the mode of the mural now being installed (it is expected to be complete when the building opens at the end of November). She was inspired by the forms and changing colors of the Marin hills and Yosemite foothills she rode through on her bicycle.

"I soaked up all that color," said Lenehan, who created the biggest piece of her career with the assistance of two artists in her employ, Michael Blanchard and Elise Ordorica. "I wasn

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