This construction, over structure design, inserts a series of courtyards and linkages into a dense forested environment composed of multi-trunked birch saplings [ Betula jacquemontii ] and lush, deer fern understory [ Blechnum spicant ]. The ‘forest’ connects the two, four-story buildings and provides horticultural entry portals to the building lobbies. Access is provided only through the ‘forest’ with site penetrations via a series of metal bridges, ramps, and stairs. A monolithic staircase connects the multi-level courtyards. The stairs were designed as the hinge or knuckle, the connective element within the courtyards bridging both levels. Carved from the forest are two generous elliptical public plazas. Stacked stone seat walls scribe the courtyard perimeters. The site’s previous use as a recycling facility initiated our exploration of material re-use and encapsulating “memory” into the design. When presented with 84’ feet of blank wall along the primary entry, MFLA developed a backlit glass gabion wall, utilizing glass cullet [glass furnace waste] hand stacked eight inches deep within a stainless steel enclosure. This sculptural installation provides a textural, faceted daytime read and at night, a glowing crystalline caged wall. The birch saplings extend to the sidewalk at both entries providing a horticultural wayfinding of the entries. Columnar ginkgoes [Ginkgo biloba “Fastigiata”] wrap the entire project’s city block situated in the heart of San Francisco’s design center. We consciously “forced” seasonality and contrast in our typically Mediterranean climate by utilizing trees that provide a rich seasonal display of autumn color, bare winter silhouette, and verdant summer foliage, transforming the landscape through the seasons.

This project provides an urban forest insertion in an otherwise post-industrial district and through the last 21 years, has provided an urban refuge and respite for both the public and the building’s occupants. Its success over this span of time in an extremely challenging over-structure planting environment is a testament to MFLA’s expertise in design detailing and horticultural acumen. This project only grows richer with time, as most well managed landscapes and gardens should. The materials palette & overall project details developed for the site in walls, flatwork, vertical screens and scrims are also have an inherent timelessness. MFLA continues to reference this project as a “case study” and believes it’s one of our finest commercial infill projects, exemplifying the potential for “greening” the urban core.

Marta Fry. Designer


Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: MFLA | Marta Fry Landscape Associates, now Munden Fry Landscape Associates

Architecture offices involved in the design: Pfau Architects

Location: 350 Rhode Island St, San Francisco, CA

Design year: 1999

Year Completed: 2002 with subsequent updates


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