Are giant cranes and tall, high-density buildings caving in on your drive down the boulevard? Does the sight of a Marshmallow Man-sized mega-mansion send you running for cozy cover? Then head to SFMOMA and view The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment and Idealism, conceived as a place to “live lightly on the land”, and yes, you can walk through a prototype. Identified by a clean, bold logo, designed by Barbara Stauffer Solomon, to incorporate a majestic ram’s head and arching ocean wave, the compound was built on land once home to Pomo Indians, later ranchers, and loggers. Buildings of raw wood from Douglas firs from local mills, inspired by the barns, gracefully rise up from the landscape, described by curator Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, to “blend into the landscape” and “expand the California lifestyle beyond … manicured golf courses.”

This truly is an immersive opportunity to experience the vision of a modern architect. Lawrence Halperin, inspired by time spent on a kibbutz, imagined a manageable, efficient model where 50% of the land would be set aside for communal space. Walk through Unit 9 to see the wide expanse of window, unobscured by shutters or curtains, with a vista to the ocean. Snuggle up on the adjacent window seats surrounding a wood-burning stove. Gaze up at the characteristic aedicule, the raised lofts fashioned to function as bedrooms.

A construction moratorium halted the project, but not the ideal. The creators of Sea Ranch did not seek golden sands or rolling hills. Their dream was to embrace the landscape, any landscape, to appreciate the beauty of challenge. A drive north of the Bay Area will still find the craggy shoreline, sturdy cypress, and unpainted structures, sumptuous in their simplicity, what curator Joseph Becker calls “a system for the sensitive occupation of a precious landscape that acknowledged the past while operating with a distinctly modern perspective.” While space and time seem to be unattainable luxuries in the 21st century, a visit to this show is not only instructional, it’s cleansing. It’s time to give a little space to ourselves and Mother Nature.

The Sea Ranch; Architecture, Environment and Idealism shows through April 28, 2019