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James Corner's Three Presidio Parklands Schemes: How to Tell Them Apart

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At a public workshop Saturday morning, landscape starchitect James Corner took to PowerPoint to present three variations on a scheme for the New Presidio Parklands, the 13 acres of open space that will sprout from the tunnel tops currently going in over the Presidio Parkway (née Doyle Drive). All three concepts are based on the skeleton of the scheme that won his firm, James Corner Field Operations, last fall's contest to design the new landscape (local firm EHDD is on board, too). As you recall, that scheme will link the Presidio's main post to Crissy Field via an elegant set of elliptical paths, which neatly resolve the steep grade change between the main post and the waterfront. In the interest of shaping a new public space that will draw all manner of San Franciscans and tourists, the trust (which is spearheading the project with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Parks Service) is inviting the public to weigh in during a series of public workshops.

(There are also two other plans—see alternatives 1 and 2 here—of more bureaucratic origins, which will enter the project's environmental study phase along with one final James Corner-prepped scheme.)

At the workshop, Corner talked the crowd through one aerial-view diagram of each concept, a mode of presentation that makes it difficult to hold the distinguishing features of each scheme in mind all at once. One audience member interrupted the proceedings to ask for elevations, and it wasn't a rude question. As John King wrote in the Chronicle over the weekend, "you'll need cartographic skills to tell one apart from the next."

The three concepts keep the basic structure of Corner's winning proposal, with three lookouts to the waterfront and that elegant elliptical circulation logic. But they vary in emphasis and ideal use, offering more meandering paths and intimate space for small groups in one scheme and more defined spaces for assembly in another. Corner stresses that at this early stage, the idea isn't to identify one of the three as the choice over the others, but to get the public's opinion on the pros and cons of each one. (The trust is also accepting comments on its website.) A final schematic, which the trust hopes to present in September, could potentially pull elements from all three. The next public meeting, on April 18, will look at the concepts in more detail, so for now, here are some of the basic differences between the schemes that we can glean so far.

Note: All three concepts would demolish the Observation Post (which began its life in 1968 as a Burger King, of all things), but the options vary on whether they would replace the building with a new structure. All concepts also feature three overlooks to the waterfront, but they vary in how formal those spaces are. All three also include a youth campus at Crissy Field Center and, at the base of the bluff, a learning landscape for outdoor environmental education. The three schemes differ in how much (if any) built space they add near the center.

Concept 1 would offer the least built space of Corner's three options. In this scheme, there's no new space at Crissy Field Center, and the Observation Post is not replaced; a fire pit and gathering spot would be on hand instead, with unobstructed views to the water. Concept 1 emphasizes meandering paths—it has the most linear feet of paths of all the schemes—and more intimate spaces. Corner characterizes it as a naturalistic setting for individuals and small groups, with some space to accommodate small-scale events.

Concept 2 would expand Crissy Field Center and add one adjacent structure for programming. The Observation Post would be replaced with two smaller public buildings that would amount to about the same square footage as what's coming down. Most of all, this scheme emphasizes spaces for larger assemblies of people, and would extend the main parade ground.

Concept 3 has the most built space of all three of Corner's plans, adding one more building to Concept 2's expansion of Crissy Field Center. The Observation Post, too, would be replaced with a larger building. This scheme also has the most gathering space, including a small-scale amphitheater. One of the three overlooks would be a cantilevered platform, an idea hinted at in Corner's renderings from the competition phase.

The design phase is slated to wrap up in 2015 or 2016, with construction planned for 2016 through 2018.

· Starchitects Vie to Design Presidio Plot That Doesn't Exist Yet [Curbed SF]
· James Corner to Design New Presidio Landscape Over Parkway [Curbed SF]
· Preliminary Design Concepts [New Presidio Parklands]
· 5 Visions for Unique Presidio Landscape Going on Display [SFGate]
· Comment [New Presidio Parklands]
· Participate: Public Presentations [New Presidio Parklands]