Perfect Angle for Treasure Island: 68 Degrees

Friday, September 4, 2009

(Rendering courtesy CMG Landscape Architecture.)

Sixty-eight degrees happens to be the best angle for the streets in San Francisco’s Treasure Island project, a utopian vision of green, pedestrian-centric living. The planners have realized that nobody will walk if they’re buffeted by blasts of wind that sweep the island from the southwest, so they came up with a compromise that blocks wind while giving cars enough clearance to turn.

It was just one of the interesting factoids that came up during yesterday’s tour, organized by the AIA SF for their Architecture + the City Festival, going on right now  (still time to catch one of the other tours and get in on the learning and schmoozing!).

The main presenter, Karen Alschuler of Perkins+Will–who was involved with the project from the start, when it was just SMWM rather than the many firms in the mix today–gave a thorough presentation with a new aerial rendering:

(Rendering courtesy SOM.)

She painted a vision of how residents would commute to the city.  “You’ll be drinking your coffee at the kitchen window, and see the ferry leave from San Francisco, which takes about 13 minutes to arrive, and you’ll walk down to catch it.” All homes on the island will be designed so they are a 10 to 15 minute walk to the ferry building.

But the really primo residential real estate will not be on the island itself, but on adjoining Yerba Buena Island. The west-facing half of the island will be redeveloped as part of the Treasure Island project, with a series of townhomes stepping down the hill, with truly amazing views. Anyone like me who has driven around and around Yerba Buena looking for a spot to take in that view and has been thwarted will be glad to hear there’s going to be a new public park right at the top.

That park’s in addition to the 300 acres of open space on Treasure Island itself, which is only 400 acres altogether.  To encourage fewer cars, the neighborhoods are built up densely around the ferry building. The current plan is to have retail and restaurants at the ferry terminal, and the hangar behind will be a farmer’s marketplace (a la the Ferry Building).

Besides Perkins+ Will, the team working on the master plan currently includes:  CMG Landscape ArchitectureSOM (condo tower), BCV (marketplace) and Page & Turnbull (historic restoration). Why so many cooks? The developer, Wilson Meany Sullivan, likes to encourage collaboration–and a little competition–to get the best results.  Just joining the group is Seattle-based Mithun, which is working specifically on the neighborhood areas.

Talking to Gerry Tierney of Perkins+Will, the plan for the 6,000-8,000 residences is to put parcels out to bid by developers, who will work with individual architects, in order to avoid an architectural monoculture.  The design guidelines they are putting together will be “steadfastly modern”–definitely no historical pastiche. Their hopes are for something akin to the jolly Borneo Sporenburg in Amsterdam.

The celebrated canal in Amsterdam. Photo from Flickrs Creative Commons by sporkist.

The celebrated canal in Amsterdam. (Photo from Flickr's Creative Commons by sporkist.)

On this brilliant day, where the city was so bright and clear, the vision seemed so close.

San Francisco skyline behind Building No. 2, the planned marketplace.

San Francisco skyline behind Building No. 2, to be converted into a marketplace.

7 Responses to “Perfect Angle for Treasure Island: 68 Degrees”

  1. Denise says:

    Actually that perfect 68 degree angle was originally calculated – and proposed – by the architects and urban designers at Skidmore Owings and Merill, LLP. The SOM Architects, part of a multidiciplinary team, first presented the design to the Mayor’s office and the SF Planning Commission in the fall of 2005. Though the good folks at CMG and SMWM have been involved in the Treasure Island from the beginning, the reason SOM was contacted by the development team in the first place was to bring some vision to the initial (prosaic) proposals of the Treasure Island master paln. Part of that vision included the critical reorientation of the streets. Please verify your facts.

  2. Jason says:

    I’d expect the prevailing wind to come from the northwest, the direction of the Golden Gate. It’s so pleasing to hear that there’s a mix of architects involved. The grid looks fine-grained enough to avoid the Mission Bay megablock problem.

  3. ian says:

    looks like the perfect place to walk / bike to the ferry to get to SF… should be an interesting place to live. hopefully they’ll be smart and run ferries till late at night so that people can still feel like they’re part of the city.

    actually, with such a short ride, they should just have a small all-night water taxi that will take you home if you call in after clubbing in SF…

  4. Lydia Lee says:

    Denise, thanks for clarifying SOM’s role in determining the 68-degree angle for the island grid. I got the impression that it was a decision made by the collective whole, so I didn’t credit one particular firm. However, this post was linked to a story on Curbed SF which did specifically credit CMG for the angled layout. You may want to set them straight over there.)

  5. a. says:

    if we’re going to get facts straight, the whole reason wilson meany sullivan went “back to the drawing board” so to speak and hired SOM/etc was because of the advanced urban design studio at UC Berkeley held in spring of 2006, which proposed many of the things that SOM is proposing. at the time, the plan assumed no ferry (or, a possible ferry on the east side of the island) and that all residents would commute by car; given the weak connection to the bay bridge, this placed an upper limit on the number of people who could live on the island, which meant it could never really be much more than suburban.

    most students in our studio proposed radically dense, sustainable designs treasure island as a showcase of what a 21st century SF neighborhood could be. we did a huge amount of background research on wind, on wetlands, on ferry and public transportation possibilities – everything you see in the new plan. amongst some of our studio’s proposals were the ferry terminal being placed on the SF side of the island, limited car use plus carshare, all of which allowed us to propose much denser neighborhoods; restorative wetlands and community gardens; and wind farms, windbreaks, particular street orientations and other strategies that dealt with/responded to the wind (the strength of which was the first thing we all noticed when we went on the site).

    the way our work influenced what’s happened is somewhat serendipitous. due to a friend of a friend hearing about our studio, our work ended up being exhibited as a part of the UN’s world environment day that was held in SF that june, john king saw it and wrote it up, putting our workon the front page. this brought a lot of SF residents’ attention to what was going on on treasure island, and at the next TI community meeting – which had generally been sparsely attended – tons of people showed up, and though the people running the workshop tried to set ground rules of population/housing/density etc. that went along with the old plan, most participants expressed their support for something much more dense and sustainable.

    a few weeks later that summer, our professor got a call from wilson meany sullivan’s lawyers – they were curious, could we share the work with our studio with them? the only thing we ever heard was the request – which was posed by our prof – to let her know if we *didn’t* want our work to be shared. of course, nobody stood up to be the dissenter (or, to propose a more active role on our part? i don’t know if it could have gone differently). that was the last we heard of it until that fall, when SOM released its new plan. all of a sudden here was a dense, sustainable TI, with a ferry on the SF side of the terminal, limited car usage, a design that considers the wind, wetlands…. oh and also a tower that recalls the tower of the sun from the original columbian exposition held on the island in the 1930s (that was a proposal of a classmate of mine based on the extensive historical research he did).

    all of our ideas were there. not copied exactly, sure, but still. some of us followed for some time what happened with the plan. i’m sure i speak for most of the students when i say we’re happy to see that the work we did at school, in the confines of the ivory tower so to speak, can have such an impact on the real world. i should give credit for that to our prof, elizabeth macdonald, who was wonderful, and really made the effort to engage the community in our studio, and organized it in such a way, with an intense research component at the beginning, that greatly impacted the quality of ideas we were able to develop.

    but to see the plan move forward, for a couple of years now, with no acknowledgement of our studio’s influence on it, and with SOM consistently taking credit for so many ideas which we had developed, is incredibly frustrating. i have no idea who actually saw our boards – i have spoken to various folks at SOM about it casually, and they seem to not be aware of our work – but the similarities are so striking (and the fact is, wilson meany sullivan asked to see our work) that i have a hard time believing that our ideas didn’t influence their plan.

    oh, and also – about that shifted grid: our research showed that you don’t have to put that 68-degree kink in the grid to deflect the wind. streets at a normal 90 angle, but oriented to the orthogonal shape of the island, would do that just fine. that is one feature of SOM’s plan that really irritates me. it seems to me a move made to have something “different” and create cool renderings when i think the result on the ground, experientially, would be crappy, and isn’t actually justified by the environmental conditions.

  6. a. says:

    oops just to clarify our studio was in the spring of 2005, not the spring of 2006! gosh, time flies fast…

  7. forexst_ra_tegies says:

    I am definitely bookmarking this page and sharing it with my friends.


Post new comment

Name (required)

E-Mail (required)

Advertise on The Architect's Newspaper.

Submit your competitions for online listing.

Submit your events to AN's online calendar.



Copyright © 2015 | The Architect's Newspaper, LLC | AN Blog Admin Log in. The Architect's Newspaper LLC, 21 Murray Street 5th Floor | New York, New York 10007 | tel. 212.966.0630
Creative Commons License