The Blue Shield of California Theater at YBCA

8804 Yerba Buena Hero

The Blue Shield of California Theater at YBCA

Conceived as a performing arts “machine,” this flexible facility is a technically-advanced venue for not-for-profit performing arts groups. A generative element of a thriving cultural district that transformed a once-derelict neighborhood, the building casts itself and audiences as performers on the public stage of San Francisco’s South of Market district.

8804 Yerba Buena Hero

My conceptual approach to the design envisions the theater as a playful assemblage of forms, which actively choreographs the theater experience and expresses the energy and spirit of the multi-cultural arts community.

Todd Schliemann, Project Designer

The tension between purely architectonic concerns and social ones is expressed in the design of this flexible, state-of-the-art public theater for the presentation of drama, dance, film and experimental works.

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8804 Yerba Buena Lobby
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The theater is conceived as a sculptural, dynamic object in space, where no single perspective is privileged, and theatergoers engage volumes and spaces in multiple and distinct ways. The design celebrates essential volumes, manipulating visual attention through a 360-degree sequence and activating the immediate context.

The stage house and audience chamber, locked together by the proscenium, form the central theme of the design; each additional program element is defined as a distinct form to be assembled additively.

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8804 Yerba Buena Auditorium

The design blurs the distinction between audience and performers: a second-story balcony doubles as a lounge for patrons and a performance stage facing the esplanade; visible from the street, the upper lobby is revealed as a public stage; and the audience chamber can merge with the stage, or the proscenium can remain intact and the building used as a traditional theater.

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The building is a vital player in the arts district, providing a venue for myriad arts groups and adapted for uses unimagined upon its completion, including the launch of numerous Apple products.


San Francisco, CA
65,500 GSF
750-seat Proscenium Theater, Lobby, Upper Lobby with Balcony


Design Partners
James S. Polshek, 1930-2022, Todd Schliemann
Management Partner
Joseph Fleischer
Project Manager
Sara Caples, Damyanti Radheshwar
Technical Designer
Jihyon Kim
Design Team
Marybeth Comins, Denis Dambreville, Lawrence Davis, Greg Doench, Amy Eliot, Lois Mate, Darius Sollohub


  • 1995
    • Award of Honor for Design Excellence, AIA/San Francisco, 1995
  • 1994
    • AIA National Honor Award for Architecture, 1994
    • AIA National Honor Award for Interiors, 1994
    • Award, AIA/New York Chapter, 1994
    • USITT Architecture Award, United States Institute of Theatre Technology, 1994
  • 1999
    • Rudy Bruner Gold Medal for Urban Excellence, Institute for Urban Design, 1999
  • 1994
    • Award for Excellence in Design, AIA/New York State, 1994
    • MCA Merit Award, Metal Construction Association, 1994


  • 2000
    • DeCarlo, Tessa. "If Small Is Beautiful, It Passes the Test" (The New York Times, 12/17/2000)
  • 1988
    • Temko, Allan. "'People's Theater' of the Future" (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/14/1988)
  • 1995
    • Forgey, Benjamin . "San Francisco's Art-Full Architecture" (The Washington Post, 2/4/1995)
  • 1994
    • Coolidge, Cal. "Avant-Garde Encore" (The Architectural Review, 8/1994)
    • Landecker, Heidi. "Street Theater" (Architecture, 2/1994)
    • Markoff, John. "A New San Francisco Is Growing Downtown" (The New York Times, 5/22/1994)
  • 1993
    • Kahn, Eve M. "Sailing Along on the Cutting Edge" (The Wall Street Journal, 11/3/1993)
    • Temko, Allan. "Graceful Triad Taking Shape in Yerba Buena" (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/17/1993)
    • Temko, Susannah. "Maki, Polshek, and Botta Buildings to Bloom at Yerba Buena Gardens" (Architectural Record, 8/1993)
  • 1992
    • Adams, Gerald D. "Yerba Buena preview offers magical vision" (San Francisco Examiner, 2/28/1992)


Rutherford + Chekene
Patricia O'Brien Landscape Architecture
Synergy Lighting
Tracy Turner Design, Inc., Salestrom Design
Paoletti & Associates
Robert Schwartz & Associates
Code/Life Safety
Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc.
Cost Estimating
Hanscomb Associates
Auerbach Pollock Friedlander
Consulting Engineers
F. E. Jordan Associates, Inc.
Laura Hogan
General Contractor
Sumitomo Construction
Construction Manager
Turner Construction Company
Richard Barnes, Jeff Goldberg/Esto, Carl Wilmington, Aislinn Weidele/Ennead Architects
Aislinn Weidele/Ennead Architects