Events , San Francisco

After The Ashes: The Curious Case of Gray Houses in the Mission

After The Ashes, The Curious Case of Gray Houses in the Mission, Sergio De La Torre in conversation with Tanu Sankalia, Doors 6 pm, Event 7 pm

Change is a critical ingredient in any major city, but the housing crisis in San Francisco has reached a fever pitch. The neighborhood is experiencing an overwhelming number of evictions, sky-high rental rates, an influx of a young, tech-savvy class of new arrivals, and an untenable homeless situation.

On countless blocks in the Mission District, however, a quieter and more peculiar transformation has gone nearly unnoticed—the proliferation of newly renovated houses painted in monochromic shades of gray. From Pilgrim Haze to Stormy Sky (both from the Benjamin Moore paint color catalog), the once-universally “meh” color cloaks the architecture in a quiet sophistication, often coupled with a bright, new FOR SALE sign out front.

Against the backdrop of eccentric and colorful history, why gray and why now? Are the houses intended to blend in, stick out, modestly address status, or some combination therein? Does the selection represent a benevolent aesthetic choice or cold-hearted “gray-washing” of the area?

After the Ashes is an investigative project by artist Sergio De La Torre that takes the phenomenon of newly-painted gray homes in the Mission District—the artist’s neighborhood—as a point of departure to explore wealth, aesthetics, politics, identity, and displacement. An overview of De La Torre’s practice and research is followed by a conversation between the artist and Tanu Sankalia, Associate Professor and Program Director of the interdisciplinary program in Urban Studies at the University of San Francisco.


Sergio De La Torre‘s projects have focused on issues regarding immigration, tourism, surveillance technologies, and transnational identities. Works have been exhibited in a variety of venues both national and international and the artist has received grants from the NEA, The Rockefeller Foundation, Creative Capital, the Potrero Nuevo Fund, and the Creative Work Fund, among others. De La Torre’s latest effort is the Sanctuary City Project, a research initiative that uses community engagement and social practice methods to create a dialogue surrounding sanctuary cities and immigration issues.

Tanu Sankalia is Associate Professor and Program Director of the interdisciplinary program in Urban Studies at the University of San Francisco where he teaches courses in urban planning and design, architectural and urban history, and architectural design. He was trained in urban design at UC Berkeley, and in architecture at the School of Architecture, Ahmedabad. His research interests include urbanism and architecture from the local context of the San Francisco Bay Area to the global perspectives of India and Latin America. Current projects include a book manuscript titled The Urban Unseen and he is co-editor of Urban Reinventions: San Francisco’s Treasure Island, published by the University of Hawaii Press, 2017.