Along some of San Francisco’s most stunning coastline, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has just completed two new visitor centers, the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center and the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion.
The Lands End Lookout, designed by EHDD, is a thoughtful gem of concrete, wood, and glass that’s completely at home perched above the rugged coastline that once was home to the Victorian-era Sutro Baths. The siting completes, in Delphic fashion, the progression of man-made structures from the ruins of the baths to the Cliff House, past venerable Louis’ Restaurant, and culminating at the visitor center.
The center houses interpretive exhibits of the site and its history as well as a cafe and shop. The view of the coast, including the famous Seal Rocks, is so well framed through the transparent east-west axis that one can imagine that the vista is better than it was prior to the building. In one of those small, deft moves that demonstrates the architect’s care for the site, the structure is rotated several degrees off the east-west axis to maximize the view corridor.
“To build on this magnificent site required a design that fights the fog and salt air while capturing the inspiring view, history, and culture,” explained EHDD’s Jennifer Devlin.
Around the coast to the northeast of Lands End sits the Golden Gate Bridge and its new Bridge Pavilion by Jensen Architects. While visually pleasing and technically strong, the 3,700-square-foot building doesn’t integrate into its site with the same success as the Lands End project. The bright reddish-orange building is clad in cementitious panels and has a simple rectangular plan, with a minimal clerestory roofline and a glass storefront entrance. The north facade is a nearly unbroken mass of solid wall; one can only see the bridge from the entry area. In a location where natural beauty and the bridge’s stunning engineering are free for the looking, this building has an inward focus.
The interpretive exhibits housed in the Bridge Pavilion, telling the story of the 75-year-old bridge, are well done. A magnificent scale model of one of the bridge towers is housed in the pavilion. It was used for structural testing during the construction of the bridge.
The charming historic Roundhouse, situated closer to the bridge and on higher ground, affords visitors some great photo opportunities. Restored by EHDD, the Roundhouse has been returned to its original configuration. Its circular plan, surrounded by glass, affords sweeping views.
The Golden Gate National Park Conservancy has done an admirable job in getting both the Lands End and Golden Gate projects funded ($4.5 million and $4 million, respectively), designed, and built. Without the efforts of this private organization, neither project would have been realized.