Township Commons welcomes Oakland residents back to their waterfront with a bold and brave definition of a park. An adaptive re-use conceived with a radical imagination, the park is located within the footprint of the former 9th Avenue Terminal, a shipping cargo facility, and is inspired by the industrial history as well as the natural history of the site. Select building elements including walls, trusses, and the imprint of loading dock geometry are preserved in the design but are also transformed to inspire and allow for new uses. The project was immediately embraced by locals for recreational movement and water’s edge gathering. Its success as a first phase of development has created a strong public identity for the Brooklyn Basin neighborhood.
To ensure that the development and necklace of four parks felt truly public to all people, the design for phase one is conceived as a giant deck chair for the city with views to and down on the waters of Oakland’s estuary. This industrial-sized, south-facing, elevated deck centers the park. Its unusual character of being near open water, broad, AND paved is a condition that is hard to find in the Bay Area and could not be easily created over water today within our regulatory frameworks. The adaptive reuse of one end of the 9th avenue terminal includes a grocery, restaurant, kayak and paddleboard retail with rentals, and a public bathroom. These meet important complementary needs and provide activation and eyes on the open space.
The park defines open space with deft edits of the original building structure. This project is not preservation, but a frank and sometimes humorous conversation between the past and the future. The building is reimagined as outdoor space with planted living rooms and a large grassy hill that unexpectedly occupies one end of structural bays. Each piece of salvaged truss is given a different purpose: closest to the restaurant there is a large open-air porch, nearby there is a garden truss with lush plantings and smaller seating nooks, at the far end the large hill and truss provide the conditions for performance and spectacle. The design draws on the geometry of the past, but it sees those forms as opportunities for new uses and experiences. For example, the old loading docks for trucks are now the ramps onto an elevated deck with views overlooking the water. The loading dock numbers have been maintained and in collaboration with a graphic design firm the number graphic was redesigned to connect to both the truss structure and the water. No longer guiding deliveries of goods and materials, the numbers evoke athletic endeavours and provide an informal infrastructure for pop-up events and meet-up locations.
The large deck and its surrounds are built on an existing wharf structure that was retrofit to contemporary seismic codes. The on-structure condition of the park limited soils for planting due to weight. Without using law, which could not be supported on the existing wharf structure, the project design creates theatrical open space with scale, spatial drama, and procession from elements of the old terminal that were carefully saved and retrofit. A total of 2,519 existing piles were retrofit to support new uses and to maintain this broad piece of ground close to the water. The landscape team led important project collaboration with the structural engineer, the shoreline design engineer, and others to design a site that meets a long list of requirements but also creates beautiful, sculpted, human-scaled open space.
Material selections and details for the project were motivated by durability, budget, and importance of establishing human scale in the industrial sized bones of the building. The tie-offs for ships, old stops for trains, and other industrial site elements were also salvaged for re-use as bollards on the site. Asphalt for the pavement connects to the industrial uses of the site, but also becomes a soft, jointless surface for painting graphics and rolling many kinds of recreational wheels.
The design celebrates movement—evoking the past movements of shipping history of the trains, trucks, ships, and workers that exchanged goods at this site—but is reimagined as a place for people to move on bikes, scooters, roller skates, and on foot as they enjoy the curated hardscape. It is a new typology of paved recreational space that is both a loop trail, and a viewing platform with multiple ramps for smooth transition from participant to spectator.
In the future, parks in phases 2, 3, and 4 are planned to be less recreational and mostly constructed on ground rather than on structure. Taken together, the parks will provide 30 acres of new waterfront experiences—all of which host habitat plants for pollinators and provide a setting for remnants of the industrial history to contrast and mingle with planted areas.
Architecture offices involved in the design: MWA
Project location: 288 9th Avenue, Oakland, CA 94606
Design year: 2015
Year Built: 2020