Trinity Place, a recently completed complex of 1,900 apartments in San Francisco’s perpetually troubled Mid-Market area, is a place of extremes.

It’s a baffling but beguiling sculpture garden, and a case study in how politics shape the urban landscape. Four interlocked slabs that wall out the community, and two spacious plazas that invite it in. The architecture manages to be overwhelming and subtle at once.

Anywhere else in the city, a dense puzzle of right-angled forms ranging in height from 17 to 24 stories would be deadly. At the corner of Eighth and Market streets, Trinity Place may prove to be the anchor that pulls the disparate blocks together.

The complex has been evolving since 2003, when the first conceptual designs were unveiled for the 4-acre site framed by Market, Eighth and Mission streets. The initial phase, a 24-story bar set perpendicular to Mission Street with 18 stories of gray metal poised atop six levels of glass, opened in 2010.

The newly built Trinity Place building at San Francisco’s Market and 8th Streets could be a construct that pulls together this beleaguered part of town.

Gabrielle Lurie/The Chronicle

During that period, the project grew in size by nearly 500 units — a change driven not by developer greed but by San Francisco’s political dynamics.

The site held a motel converted to 377 apartments and owned by Angelo Sangiacomo, whose battles with tenant groups in the 1970s led to his being dubbed “the father of rent control.” So when Sangiacomo and his real estate firm Trinity Properties set out to replace the former motor lodge with 1,410 apartments, activists went to battle until a deal was worked out: Sangiacomo agreed that the complex would include replacements for each of the former rent-controlled units. In return, the project was allowed to grow to 1,900 units — of which 528 are either rent-controlled or below market rate.

That level of density is daunting — especially since the block’s heights are tightly capped by a 1984 voter initiative that keeps new shadows from being cast on city parks, including nearby Civic Center Plaza. That’s why the easternmost building on Mission Street is 24 stories, but the corner at Eighth and Market steps down to 16 stories.

But only with this spring’s opening of a Whole Foods Market along Market Street does the scale of Trinity Place sink in. It is huge — no surprise. It’s also more inviting than you might expect.

A marble engraving of Angelo Sangiacomo and his longtime wife, Yvonne, the developers of Trinity Place, can be seen in the complex’s courtyard in San Francisco.

A marble engraving of Angelo Sangiacomo and his longtime wife, Yvonne, the developers of Trinity Place, can be seen in the complex’s courtyard in San Francisco.

Gabrielle Lurie/The Chronicle

The invitation is literal, with the new building along Market Street punctured by an eight-story portal that’s 45 feet wide and leads into a large courtyard. Another, lower portal is carved through the building beyond.

Semi-public spaces often are designed and managed with cues to keep outsiders out, to keep passersby passing by. Here, it’s the opposite. If the vast portal doesn’t whet your curiosity, maybe the herringbone pattern of the white-and-black marble pavers will. No? Then try and resist the lure of life-size classical figures carved from white marble and encased in thick clear glass. You’ll want a closer look — if only to confirm that you’re not hallucinating the juxtaposition of rigid modernism and curvaceous Greek bodies, male and female alike.

Mark Guevarra (left), Daniel Morgan and Conway Gregory check out a sculpture at the Triinity Place plaza in San Francisco.

Mark Guevarra (left), Daniel Morgan and Conway Gregory check out a sculpture at the Triinity Place plaza in San Francisco.

Gabrielle Lurie/The Chronicle

I’m not saying Lawrence Argent’s statuary qualifies as great art. But the six figures arranged in a diagonal line between the two portals succeed at something more primal. They draw you in and make you look.