Category Archives: architectural history

Compelling Ideas for the New Presidio Parklands

Hit Parade

I just attended a marvelous presentation by five internationally renowned landscape and architecture teams offering ideas for shaping a 13 acre parkland site in San Francisco’s historic Presidio National Park. The site — virtually new land — extends from the edge of the Parade Ground at the Main Post over Doyle Drive (Highway 101) and down to the Bay at Crissy Field. In this photo you can see part of the Main Post lawn at the upper left and the hillside-hugging tunnels under construction with the temporary roadway looping around them.Tunnels cropped Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 11.07.10 AM (2)The drop is 35 feet, with dazzling views over the tunnel tops to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin headlands, Alcatraz, and back to the city itself. Tunnel tops Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 10.52.52 AM (2)The goal, according to project organizers, which include the Presidio Trust, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the National Park Service, is not only to integrate the waterfront with the historic core of the Presidio and celebrate the extraordinary views but also to create “a welcoming place – inspired by history and contemporary needs – that embraces cultural diversity, creativity, learning, fitness, and fun.” The intention behind asking for proposals was to simulate our collective imagination. That process has certainly succeeded: the standing-room-only-crowd was very enthusiastic. As the moderator, architect and educator David Meckel said, “Don’t think of these schemes as finished designs, look at them as a way to understand how each of these design teams think.” In other words, here are ways to start imagining what could happen here — use these ideas to jumpstart your own vision of what might be possible. Here’s what I found especially evocative.

The Power of Simplicity

West 8, a Dutch urban design and landscape firm with offices in Rotterdam and New York, thought about ways to make the site not simply an extension of the Main Post grid or a connector to the water but something in its own right, while at the same time making the slope accessible. They hit upon a descending oval that’s at once a gently sloping pathway, a central lawn, and a view oriented building arching out of the ground. Here’s their overall plan as it relates to the Main Parade Ground.

West 8 Presidio plan 2014-09-05 at 9.13.16 AM (2)The oval is positioned between three key elements — the Visitor Center, the Youth Campus, and the Water Discovery/Wet Lab — and cleverly unites them.

West 8 Presido OvalIn this aerial view you can see how the oval acts as a focal point for framing the vistas, as a pivot from upper to lower levels, and as a sheltered bowl for picnics and other events.

West 8 oval edge view at 9.03.46 AM (2)The building is the landscape, as the rendering of the upper path shows.West 8 oval alt

The design effectively illustrates West 8’s philosophy to “actively create new ecologies.” This is an ingeniously layered simplicity. I love it!

Edges That Unite

Olin, a landscape design firm based in Philadelphia and working with Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects, developed a scheme that revels in multiplicity. It extends the grid while transforming it into a series of U-shaped “Pods” to frame views and focus different activities. It adds a strong cross axis “Runway” leading from the Visitor Center to what looks like the prow of a great ship rising out of the sand. Olin Presidio  aerial 2014-09-05 at 9.19.02 AM (2)

Olin calls this the “Arc” and indicates that it might rise and fall with the tide — and that’s definitely imaginative! You can see how it forms a red arc in the photo but it’s easy to free-associate with another ark — floating the floating concept, so to speak.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.25.07 PM (2)Here’s a view of one side: a path below the prow cleaves it into two sections, while another leads through the marsh — I love how the marsh walk literally puts you in the water.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 5.42.05 PM (2)

Architect Tom Kundig is known for designing buildings in a wonderfully seductive “contraption esthetic,” often with key parts that move, like the sunshades at the Arc’s event space shown above, though I wonder how the rest of the Arc would actually work. But it makes me think: Yes, why not make a seaside park that expresses tidal movement! And I think it would be a very beautiful building.

Knit Large

SNØHETTA, a design firm with offices in Norway, New York, and San Francisco, headed a team that developed a series of so called “arcs and strands” to knit the upper and lower sections of the site together and to views and cultural activities.Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.54.10 PM (2)

What captured my attention was their willingness to remove an existing building like the Visitor Center and create a new one in a more advantageous place at the edge of the hill. It’s the triangular sod-topped structure at the center of the plan above. The new location would serve as a true introduction to the site and the Presidio at large by framing the great vista. Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.51.16 PM (2)

This view shows the approach to the new Visitor Center — an abstracted hill rising before you that partially hides your objective and then, once you’re inside or on top, reveals everything — bridge, bay, islands, mountains — at your feet.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.48.45 PM (2)Another element is also suggestive: a grand partially planted stairway-street. It could be a great meeting place as well as exercise avenue. I can see tai chi happening on alternate platforms in the early morning.

Explorers’ Club

The team led by San Francisco’s CMG Landscape Architecture, which included representatives of the Exploratorium (the famous science museum), presented a design that turned the hillside and marsh into an indoor-outdoor exhibition concourse centered on a new building called The Observation Post.Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 3.39.06 PM (2)

The brow of the hill morphs into this glass-walled structure — it’s like a softened and humanized version of the concrete bunkers leftover from World War II that are scattered about the bluffs above the Golden Gate Bridge.

CMG Presidio Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 3.37.10 PM (2)The Observation Post becomes an amphitheater for events and for enjoying views out toward the water and in toward the Main Post itself — effectively turning the Presidio into its own theatrical event.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 4.07.25 PM (2)

The scheme retains much of the original Crissy Field character will adding overlooks, way stations, and bridges that provide multiple ways to experience — and learn from — the landscape.

Power Point

The team led by James Corner Field Operations, of New York City, one of the designers of the famous High Line there, emphasized the curvilinear nature of the site — as if the grid just above it had started to melt and then spill over into the contours of the land below.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 4.24.39 PM (2)

Fanning out and over the brow of the hill, in the large concave curve shown above, is the long observation walk, part of what the scheme refers to as “The Point.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 4.39.42 PM (2)This sweeping promenade has long runs of stair-stepped seating and a sunken railing — so it doesn’t interrupt sight lines.Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 5.07.06 PM (2)In some areas the walk projects over the hill to vary the processional experience and dramatize important vistas.Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 4.38.36 PM (2)This sinuous promenade reminds me — in a much abstracted form — of the wonderful serpentine bench railing at the Parc Guell by Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona, which James Corner alluded to in this talk.Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 4.54.34 PM (2)And as at the Parc Guell, there is a building under the walkway. In Corner’s case, however, the views are the ornamentation. The curvilinear Corner proposal strikes me as a kind of alluvial echo of — or call-and-response to — the long straight line of the existing, and very successful Crissy Field Promenade on the beach below. (Photo courtesy Parc Guell).

Now, with so many ideas in each scheme to ponder, as well as the new ideas and refinements that these ideas are designed to stimulate, the task of deciding where to go from here will be difficult but hugely enriching. Bravo Presidio!

All the images in this post except for the photograph of Parc Guell are courtesy New Presidio Parklands Project. The Parklands website offers many ways to learn more and add your own suggestions.

 

Staying Cool in the Garden

Splashdown

There are myriad ways to beat — or at least distract yourself — from the heat of a mid-summer day. Some take planning and building, like this wonderful “water rail” for a terrace in Arizona, by Phoenix landscape architect Greg Trutza. The

railing-spillway-mescaleraAgua-generalife-1 from alhambradegranad.orgstream of recirculating water follows the curve of the deck and spills into a small spa at one end (photo courtesy Sunset Magazine). It’s inspired by Continue reading

More Courtyard Plans

Power Patios, Part Deux

Last week’s post on courtyard houses prompted some great suggestions from readers. Sydney, Australia architect and heritage specialist Matthew Devine told me about the house that mid-century modern Melbourne architect Roy Grounds

designed and built for his family in 1953, shown above as a model in the collection of Museum Victoria. Every major room in the almost square house Continue reading

Continuity and the Craftsman Style

Dinner & Design

I just returned from a dinner at the Gamble House in Pasadena, the great 1908 Craftsman style landmark by Greene & Greene. The occasion was to celebrate the publication of a book about the photographer Maynard Parker, who shot everything from Craftsman landmarks like the Gamble House, to celebrity homes of the 1940s and 1950s, to work by ranch house designer Cliff May and landscape architect Thomas Church.  The evening made me appreciate anew

the key elements of Greene & Greene architecture, such as the expressive use of  Continue reading

What Will It Cost To Build Your House Plan?

The Devil is in the Details

First, add ten or twenty percent to your budget! Seriously: How do you figure out what it will cost to build the house of your dreams? It’s an age-old question, with many variables and many answers, though the assumption is that the building

Windsor Castle Please credit the photographer: Peter Packer

process will not take longer than a thousand years, like, say, Windsor Castle, shown above — built, rebuilt, and successively expanded since the late 11th century (photo by Peter Packer courtesy royal.gov.uk). Cost estimating is an inexact science and actually more of a “liberal art.” It involves balancing quality Continue reading

A Great Mid-Century Modern House in Honolulu

Hawaiian Mountain High: House as Wonder Drug

The best houses don’t just stand there, they teach. They provide comfort and a sense of place while radiating ideas and discoveries and refreshment long after they’re built. That’s the case with the very progressive Howard and Betty

Liljestrand exterior with carport
Liljestrand house in Honolulu of 1952, shown here with its circular driveway and drive-through carport (no awkward — and retrogressive! — backing out of a garage here) by the great modern Hawaiian architect Vladimir Ossipoff, which I visited with my wife last month. The family is meticulously preserving it as part Continue reading

New-Old Modern Houses

Modern Masters Class

Modernism in architecture is often associated with newness but that newness is now well over one hundred years old. Yet work by towering figures like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe retains its youth. Two big modern ideas — the desire to express a building’s structure, and the use of abstract machine-like forms to shape space — are especially powerful. Take Corbu’s

novel double house at Weissenhof, of 1927 in Stuttgart, for example (photo  Continue reading