Depending on how things go, the Lawrence Halprin-designed United Nations Plaza and fountain in San Francisco could soon be demolished. The brick-lined open space is punctuated by a jagged, sunken fountain made of rough-shorn granite blocks and is installed in the city’s Civic Center district, an area that is undergoing redevelopment as the city seeks to beautify and enliven existing pedestrian areas. Though not designed as a commemorative work, when it opened in 1975, the fountain was dedicated to the signing of the U.N. charter, an event that took place in the Veterans War Memorial Building near the site of the future fountain in 1945. The opening marked the 30th anniversary of the signing and originally heralded the fountain as a civic work of global significance. The fountain was designed by Halprin, who worked in concert with architects Mario Ciampi and John Carl Warnecke as part of an urban redevelopment scheme for the area. At Halprin’s office, Don Carter worked as principal-in-charge for the project with Angela Danadjieva—lead designer for Halprin’s Freeway Park in Seattle—as landscape architect. The fountain was designed starting in 1962 during Halprin’s Modernist period; when the fountain debuted 13 years later, it contained a futuristic set of features, including computerized spray nozzles that could detect strong winds and dial-down in power in response, as to not spray passersby with water. Art and Architecture reports that the high-tech, Sierra-inspired fountain also came with an artful tidal pool installation inspired by San Francisco’s tides that cycled every hour. Greenery, including large trees, originally surrounded the fountain, as well. The fountain was designed according to a concept called “motation,” a method for scoring how one’s perception of the environment changes depending on the speed and motion of the observer, according to The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF). The fountain’s stacked blocks are carved with inscriptions and represent each of earth’s seven continents. The work, 165-feet long and articulated raucously as a set of stepped, interactive cascades, acts as a gateway connecting Market Street with the Asian Art Museum, the Orpheum Theater, a public library, and eventually, the Civic Center Plaza fronting City Hall. Today, the fountain is suffering from disrepair and neglect, with the tidal pools long-extinguished and most of the surrounding vegetation gone. The Civic Center BART and Muni station has recently come into the spotlight as open-air, intravenous drug use has become more prevalent within its corridors. Sandwiched between the city’s rapidly-gentrifying Tenderloin and South of Market districts, the areas above and within the station are often populated by people experiencing homelessness, a long-standing site condition that precedes even the 1975 renovations. The plaza spaces were “hardened” against this type of occupation in the early 2000s when all of the benches were removed and the fountain was briefly shut down. Starting in 2005, however, the plaza became home to a twice-weekly farmers market that continues to draw crowds. Plans are currently underway by CMG Landscape Architecture to redesign the plaza in tow with surrounding streets and open spaces as part of the Civic Center Public Realm Plan. The plan is managed by San Francisco’s planning department in conjunction with multiple local agencies and seeks to soften the area by promoting pedestrian use of the spaces surrounding San Francisco City Hall while repairing some of the planning mistakes of the past, like the lack of concessions and playgrounds in the area. The design team includes Gehl Studio, HR&A, InterEthnica, Kennerly Architecture + Planning, Lotus Water, Structus, M. Lee, JS Nolan, architecture + history, and HRA Engineering. CMG is currently soliciting public opinion on a trio of redevelopment proposals, only one of which retains the iconic fountain. The three proposals seek to redesign the space, with each presenting a different approach to shifting the overriding character of the three interlocking plaza spaces that make up the open space sequence between Market Street and City Hall. First, the “Culture Connector” plan aims to connect the three “flex” plazas with two runs of general-purpose open spaces lined with gridded street trees. The proposal would modify Halprin’s fountain in order to transform it into a kids’ bouldering playground. A pair of larger playgrounds would ring the Civic Center Plaza in the scheme, with collections of kiosks and pavilions scattering the site. The “Public Platform” plan aims to resignify the plazas’ function as space for protest and political gatherings by creating a more open plaza at the fore of City Hall that will be flanked by lawns. Here, fewer trees would be present while new concessions structures are to be consolidated in larger buildings at key entry points to the main square. In this scheme, the plaza fountain would be replaced with a new interactive waterwork. The “Civic Sanctuary” scheme proposes to reconfigure the plaza areas into lawns while garden rooms and a sculpture gardens ring other areas of the site. The scheme—geared toward preserving the historic elements of the plaza complex—would retain the water fountain, though plans call for removing some of the taller stone elements of the installation. The fast and loose proposals raise questions regarding the care—or lack thereof—being taken with the Halprin-designed fountain as plans are being made for the future of the UN Plaza and surrounding spaces. Charles Birnbaum, president and CEO of TCLF, described the fountain as having a “high degree of integrity” and as a “slam-dunk landscape architecture contribution for the National Register of Historic Places.” Birnbaum explained that planners are mistaken to casually call for the elimination of a piece of high civic art via a public opinion survey and that the work was among the most intact of Halprin’s surviving San Francisco works. The fountain is eligible for the National Register and is actually located in an existing historic district, but under a designation that does not include the 1970s-era changes to the area. As a result, efforts to hastily rework the Civic Center’s public spaces threaten to sacrifice one of San Francisco’s major civic art works in lieu of seemingly generic and temporary sculptures. Further, the salad bar approach presented in the schemes—individual elements of from each of the proposals are also up for consideration, allowing the schemes to be mixed and matched—leaves much to be desired for Birnbaum, who would rather see more thoughtful community engagement for the site. Halprin—the “father of public engagement” according to Birnbaum—was known for artful collaboration with clients and users in his efforts to find responsive approaches for his often-interactive works and landscapes. For now, San Francisco will continue to collect public input through the summer so that the design team can generate a singular proposal for formal consideration.
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San Francisco’s $50 million, arts and culture-focused redevelopment of the Treasure Island neighborhood, a manmade island in San Francisco Bay, is moving along with the announcement of a star-studded shortlist of artists for its massive sculpture displays. Ai Weiwei, Hiroshi Sugimoto, New Jersey-based sculptor Chakaia Booker and five other artists have been invited to submit designs for three public sites across the development, from an initial pool of 495 entrants. The plan to expand the Treasure Island district will include the neighboring Yerba Buena Island, and add up to 8,500 new residences and 550,000 square feet of retail across both islands. The $50 million art budget, to be spent in the coming decades, will be generated through the 1% for Art in Private Development fund, which would levy a 1% “art tax” on new construction projects on the island. The three sites will include the Building 1 Plaza in front of the ferry landing, with a budget of $1 million, Waterfront Plaza, with a $2 million budget, and the Yerba Buena Hilltop Park, with a $2 million budget. Of the eight artists, only Weiwei and Booker have been invited to submit proposals for more than one site. Weiwei, Booker and Los Angeles-based Pae White, with Ned Kahn as a standby option, will submit for the Building 1 Plaza. Weiwei, British sculptor Antony Gormley, and Cuban artist Jorge Pardo will also propose pieces for the Waterfront Plaza, a likely future ferry terminal location. At the Yerba Buena Hilltop Park, which will offer sweeping views of Treasure Island once the development is complete, Booker, British sculptor and photography Andy Goldsworthy, and Sugimoto have been shortlisted. Once complete, the Treasure Island redevelopment, which will be jointly masterplanned by SOM and Perkins + Will, will only build on approximately 25 percent of the available land. By clustering new buildings along Treasure Island’s southern and western shores and building for density, the master plan not only reduces the island’s dependence on cars but will also provide plenty of space for the “art park” concept to unfold. CMG Landscape Architecture has been tapped to design the 300 acres of rolling parks across both islands. “It is anticipated that proposals will be submitted in the spring and will be placed on public view on Treasure Island as well as elsewhere in the city for comment and feedback before being voted upon by the Treasure Island Development Authority,” according to the San Francisco Arts Commission. Neither Weiwei nor Sugimoto are strangers to large-scale art installations, or integrating art with the built environment. Most recently, Weiwei's Good Fences Make Good Neighbors touched down in public areas throughout New York City, while Sugimoto was tapped to redesign the Hirshhorn Museum's lobby. The entire Treasure Island master plan can be read here.
A design team made up of San Francisco–based CMG Landscape Architecture, Future Cities Lab, Page & Turnbull Architects, and ARUP engineers has been awarded a contract to rehabilitate San Jose, California’s historic St. James Park. The City of San Jose held a national competition to redesign the neglected park back in 2016 with the aim of reintegrating and modernizing the city’s largest, most urban recreation space. The competition’s top four entries included competing submissions lead by New York City–based !Melk, Berkeley, California–based Meyer + Silberberg, and Philadelphia-based WRT. The city’s 2nd Street was extended through the St. James Park in 1957 after a voter initiative, turning the formerly unified park into two, smaller areas that went underutilized and became blighted. Like its competitors, CMG’s winning entry—titled REMEMBER | IMAGINE—focuses on halting automobile traffic down the multi-modal street that bisects the park. An at-grade light rail line currently runs along 2nd Street and is expected to remain in the park moving forward. CMG’s proposal aims to install a series of picturesque, Victorian-inspired gardens with meandering trails around the perimeter of the park. An esplanade of shade trees, picnic areas, a cafe, and a dog park will fill out the spaces around the light rail line. One corner of the park will be anchored by a multi-use pavilion designed by Future Cities Lab. The octopus-like pavilion will be made up of half a dozen or so arcades that emanate from a bandshell-covered stage. According to renderings released by the winning team, the colonnades will provide shade for benches and walkways across this section of the park. In a press release touting the winning commission, Nataly Gattegno and Jason Kelly Johnson of Future Cities lab said, “We designed the pavilion to be an open and illuminated space seamlessly integrated with the park. We want to encourage neighbors to stroll through the colonnades and interact with the pavilion day and night,” adding, “When there is a scheduled event, the pavilion will transform into a high-tech performance venue with superb acoustics and lighting.”
Just two days ago, AN brought you word that Copenhagen- and New York–based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and London-based Heatherwick Studio were teaming up to design the new headquarters for Google in Mountain View, California. At the time, it was only being reported that the complex would comprise "a series of canopylike buildings.” Well, now we know what those canopylike buildings will look like and a whole lot more. The Silicon Valley Business Journal first reported on the project design, publishing dramatic renderings and details on how the architects came up with their groundbreaking scheme. "Google—along with a team of prominent architects—has spent more than a year rethinking every assumption about office buildings, tech campuses, and how they relate to their neighborhoods," reported the newspaper. "The result? Four futuristic structures where basic building elements — floors, ceilings and walls — attach or detach from permanent steel frames, forming whole new workspaces of different sizes. With help from small cranes and robots ("crabots"), interiors will transform in hours, rather than months." Hear that? Crabots! A spokesperson at BIG declined to comment further on the design. http://youtu.be/z3v4rIG8kQA These four structures will be draped in glass canopies and are scaled as entire city blocks. The overall campus would also reportedly "see wide swaths of land returned to nature, criss-crossed by walking trails and dotted by plazas, community gardens and oak groves." There would even be a walking path that cuts through a building "letting outsiders inside the Google hive." Joining BIG and Heatherwick on this massive project is the San Francisco–based CMG Landscape Architecture, which is working with Gehry on the Facebook campus. "Today we’re submitting a plan to redevelop four sites—places where we already have offices but hope to significantly increase our square footage—to the Mountain View City Council," David Radcliffe, Google's Real Estate VP writes. "It’s the first time we'll design and build offices from scratch and we hope these plans by Bjarke Ingels at BIG and Thomas Heatherwick at Heatherwick Studio will lead to a better way of working." Google further unveiled the project on its blog this morning, revealing the video above. "The idea is simple. Instead of constructing immoveable concrete buildings, we’ll create lightweight block-like structures which can be moved around easily as we invest in new product areas," Radcliffe said on the blog. The project totals 3.4 million square feet and includes four sites. Google reportedly wants to have the first of these sites, known as "The Landing," completed by 2020. But before construction can start, the city must approve Google's hugely ambitious plans.