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New Master Plan Opens Additional Bay Views

Rendering of Fort Mason, a 13 acre, former military installation along the San Francisco waterfront
A winning master plan design has been selected for Fort Mason, a 13 acre, former military installation along the San Francisco waterfront. The campus is divided into a park-like upper portion and a concrete and steel lower portion by a ridgeline topped with Monterey Cypress trees. © West 8

The winning design for the Fort Mason, San Francisco, master plan competition centers on protecting the legacy of the site while planning for a future that extends more than 100 years.

February 19, 2013—There are few vistas so iconic that they are recognizable by a worldwide audience. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, as seen from the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula, is one of those views. A master plan design that activates the waterfront along the tip of the peninsula, opens up the view to a greater number of people, and protects the historical fabric of the site—a former military installation with three ship piers—has won the design competition for the site’s redevelopment.

“If you are on the piers, you have the best view on the bay you can imagine,” said landscape architect Adriaan Geuze, a principal and the design director of Rotterdam, Netherlands-based West 8, the landscape architecture and urban design studio that led the winning design. “You see Alcatraz, you see the Golden Gate, the boats are almost touching the piers, [and] you have a feeling of engagement with the landscape and the bay and the water—and the tides, and the current, and the wind,” Geuze says.

The Fort Mason campus covers approximately 13 acres and currently includes 300,000 sq ft of usable built space; 9 of its 13 Mission Revival-style buildings are available for redevelopment. A green parklike “upper” Fort Mason area is divided from the concrete and steel “lower” Fort Mason, which is located along the waterfront near a ridgeline covered with Monterey Cypress trees. 

 Rendering of Pontoon Wavedeck whcih can be used for viewing events on the bay

 The winning design calls for three large-scale, moveable concrete
floating pontoons that can be used as flexible programming space
for lounging areas, extra seating for concerts, or viewing platforms
for events on the bay, including the America’s Cup. © West 8

Fort Mason’s military heritage extends back to the 1770s, when it was part of a Spanish colony, according to supplemental materials issued as part of the design competition. It was claimed by the United States Army after the Mexican-American War in 1848, and used as a point of embarkation for troops and cargo headed to the Pacific from 1909 to 1962. A decade later Congress transferred the land to the National Park Service, including it in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The installation has been incorporated as a nonprofit organization—the Fort Mason Center—since 1976.

The cultural mission of the Fort Mason Center is robust, and the campus already hosts five theaters, three restaurants and cafes, and four galleries, as well as a bookstore, music school, a children’s educational theater, and a children’s art school. In addition, 21 nonprofits lease space on the site. Event space is also available and more than 15,000 activities are booked on the site annually.

The lower Fort Mason area was initially developed and built in the first few decades of the 20th century, future adaptations of the three pier sheds on the site completed prior to World War II. “It is very brutal in its construction,” says landscape architect Marcel Wilson, ASLA, a principal of the San Francisco-based firm Bionic, which served as a partner to West 8 in the competition. “It’s hard, made of concrete, and designed to withstand the elements—and it was designed for ships.”

 Rendering of F-Line stop into the medow

 Expanding access to the campus is a significant challenge at
the site, a former military installation that was originally
designed to keep people out. The design team would like to
see San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency F line
train extended approximately 1 mi from its current terminus
point at Fisherman’s Warf to Fort Mason. © West 8

Additionally, “these are historic buildings sitting over the water—they are sitting on old infrastructure, and they are facing a future of sea level rise,” Wilson is quick to point out. “So the first big challenge is engineering for the future in an entirely different regulatory environment than the time in which they were conceived and built.”

According to Wilson, the Fort Mason project is unprecedented. “There are projects on piers, there are projects in historic districts, and then there are arts projects,” he says. “There aren’t any arts projects on piers, in national historic districts. The combination of its program and context makes it entirely unique.”

The design competition requested ideas for creating usable space in Pier One, which has never before been open to the public, Wilson notes. The team would like to see the existing pier shed transformed into a boutique hotel located atop a public art gallery, so that visitors to the site can access the view from the end of the pier.

The current plan for retrofitting Pier One will follow in the footsteps of retrofit efforts completed on Pier Two approximately a decade ago, according to Rich Dornhelm, P.E., M.ASCE, a vice president of Moffatt & Nichol who is based in the firm’s Walnut Creek, California, office. Moffat & Nichol served as a consultant on the plan, which calls for encasing the 4 ft diameter caissons that comprise the foundation of Pier One in fiberglass-reinforced plastic jacketing. Once the jackets are placed, “the annular space between the jacket and the deteriorated caisson is filled with grout, and that not only strengthens the pier, it also gives it a level of protection from the harsh marine environment,” Dornhelm says. “The concrete now has accumulated a lot of the deleterious salt materials that eventually lead to the corrosion of the reinforcement and the ultimate failure of the structure, so we need to arrest that as well as strengthen the structure—these jackets seem to do both.”

 Rendering of the grand welcome area underneath the ridge deck

 To expand access to the site, the design creates a revised
gateway entrance through the ridge between the upper and lower
portions of the Fort Mason campus, as well as a floating, marina
bridge that will connect Fort Mason to San Francisco’s Presidio.
© West 8

Once the final design process begins in earnest, the seismic upgrades necessary for Pier One’s deck and shed structure will be further refined, Dornhelm says.

According to Wilson, expanding access to the Fort Mason campus, particularly the lower Fort Mason area, was critical to West 8’s winning design proposal and another big challenge presented by the site. “What’s ironic about the project is that military sites are designed to keep people out, so we’re really trying to think about how to allow people access to this site on a variety of different levels: at the level of the city, at the level of the neighborhood, from inside the buildings on the site, and even from the water side,” Wilson says.

To support that goal, West 8’s design calls for not only finding ways to bring more people to the site with greater frequency, but also to lengthen the span of time during the day when people could make use of the site. The design’s phased solutions include a revised gateway entrance through the ridgeline to lower Fort Mason that would also include expanded main office space for the Fort Mason Center. Additionally, the design calls for a bridge that extends over the ridgeline, connecting the upper and lower campuses, and a second, floating, marina bridge that will connect Fort Mason to the Presidio. Both bridges will provide additional visitor access points to the lower portion of the Fort Mason campus.

Parking in the lower Fort Mason area would be relocated to a new underground parking garage as part of the design, creating a car-free zone and public plaza areas on the waterfront. This will open up the space for the potential of even greater numbers of public events, according to Geuze.

 Rendering of floating, concrete pontoon used to hold a heated, saltwater swimming pool

 The design team says one of the floating, concrete pontoons used
to hold a heated, saltwater swimming pool so that visitors can
enjoy the water environment without having to plunge directly into
the cold bay waters. © West 8

The waterfront of lower Fort Mason will be activated with the addition of steps that reach down to the water’s edge so that visitors can lounge and enjoy the scenery, while three large-scale concrete floating pontoons will be added to the site as flexible programming areas that can be moved and repositioned depending on how the space is needed. “We have a good relationship [with water] in the Netherlands,” says Daniel Vasini, a designer for West 8 and a member of its design team. “We are very water related—and we know very well how to play with water.”

The design team suggests that one of these pontoons could hold a heated, saltwater swimming pool so that visitors can enjoy the water environment without having to plunge directly into the cold bay water, Vasini says.

As part of the project, the West 8 team would like to see the F Line of San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency (Muni) train system extended approximately 1 mi from its current terminus point at Fisherman’s Warf to Fort Mason, improving access to the site and its cultural offerings. This expansion is one that had been under discussion prior to the design competition.

In addition to Bionic, other partners with West 8 on the design were Mark Jensen, AIA, an architect and principal for San Francisco-based Jensen Architects, and Ila Berman, the director of architecture at the California College of Arts and a principal of Studio Matrixx. Other consultants were Charles Edwin Chase, AIA, a principal of San Francisco-based Architectural Research Group; Drew Gagnes, P.E., a director of civil engineering in the Seattle office of Magnusson Klemencic Associates; Candace Damon, a partner in the New York City-based real estate development firm HR&A Advisors; Alice Nguyen, ASPE, a director of San Francisco-based Langdon Associates; and Jim Hornback, a director of business development for San Francisco-based Impark, a parking services company.


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