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A rendering of the Shipyard project, with scores of new buildings on the waterfront.
A glimpse of the (probable) future at the Shipyard.
Via FivePoint Holdings

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Shipyard architect David Adjaye wants “more natural” Hunters Point

The site finally has housing, but is it yet a neighborhood?

Slowly but surely, the city and developers are making good on a decades-long dream to turn the abandoned, toxic Navy base at Hunters Point and the area around it into something fit not only for human habitation but, possibly someday, for consumer envy.

The San Francisco Chronicle already dubbed the San Francisco Shipyard the city’s newest neighborhood and praised its relative affordability, as new two bedroom condos there run in the $500K-$600K range.

But in that same story, residents bemoaned the relative lack of, well, anything else at all in the area. The Shipyard is just the tip of the iceberg, but until the rest of the iceberg surfaces the area is still a bit barren.

(Note that the capital-S “Shipyard” refers to a specific new development in the neighborhood, while “shipyard” may refer to the entire naval base.)

That’s where architect David Adjaye comes in, at least in part. Adjaye recently signed on as master planner for the Shipyard’s phase two.

Based in London, he most recently designed the National Museum of African American Culture and History in DC. The Shipyard will be his first foray into California and San Francisco. So what’s his first impression?

Library of Congress

“Well, it’s not flat,” Adjaye tells Curbed SF. “That’s difficult, but it also creates opportunities. The city’s north is beautifully served with urban spaces, but then down south it just goes off.

“Right now waterfront is accessible to a certain extent,” he adds. “But we want to make a more natural looking edge to the bay. I’d like for this to be more than just a neighborhood. I’d like for it to be a gathering place for everyone who lives in the south.”

Developer FivePoint Holdings advertises the Shipyard as “Just 3.5 miles from SoMa.” Which of course is true, but potentially a little misleading. At times, Hunters Point can seem much, much further away from the hub of the city than maps would suggest, if you’re someone living there in what is still relative isolation.

On top of new homes and retail, Adjaye’s initial plans for the neighborhood include a public plaza and pedestrian bridges over the old dry dock (which he hails as a remarkable resource), all in an effort to invest a little more “there there,” as they say.

More notable than what he wants to put in is what he’s keeping: as much as he can. “There’s incredible history here,” he says. He’s talking about the buildings, which he hopes to incorporate into new designs.

“What the Navy built creates an industrial heritage,” he says. “We want to restore as much of that as possible.”

He also stresses that nothing is yet set in stone—or brick, or steel, or concrete. “A professional has his own feelings about what will work, but we know that people live in these places. We’re just beginning and we want the people to have their say.”

His suggestions for precedents on “what will work” gets pretty dizzying: “Everything from Vancouver, Seattle, New York, South America, the Netherlands—I could keep going. Stockholm, even. Waterfront cities saw a century of explosion in growth. There’s plenty to work with.”

He mentions, too, the cleanup efforts at the formerly contaminated site. Chronicle critic John King reports that “Is it clean?” used to be the most frequently asked question among Shipyard buyers.

It seems those worries have diminished with time. For the record, Superfund chief John Chestnutt told concerned Shipyard residents earlier this month that “we have no reason to question any of the cleanup work” on that plot, despite misgivings about what’s happened nearby.

As always with a big project, it’s “hurry up and wait” to see when it will all materialize, but new bits are coming along. Last week saw the dedication of Pacific Pointe, a 60-unit BMR building on Friedell Street catering largely to Bayview residents.

Naturally, it’s already full.

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