San Francisco's fog provides inspiration
San Francisco is well known for its fog, and it’s that weather pattern that provides the design inspiration for the award winning Helen Diller Civic Centre playgrounds. Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture(ACLA) was commissioned by the Helen Diller Family Foundation to come up with the concept for the playgrounds facing City Hall in the city’s historic Civic Centre Plaza.
The result - children play within a forest of slender poles, climbing into clouds that have been tethered like the fog rolling through the city. The custom designed “Sky Punch”, is a treehouse structure that is designed to challenge children as they climb up through the clouds of nets. “Lenticular Cloud”, is a spiralling play structure connects the ground path for children to roam along the colourful catwalk or explore using the twisting net.
“Fog Valley” is a series of inverted semi circles that created a multi-use play structure to swing on the climbing cars and balance on the stretched membrane; and “Cumulus City”, a little city of climbing structures which makes little play houses for children to escape and find a little retreat for imaginative games.
In the evenings, an interactive light show and twinkling pillars join the two playgrounds and activate the plaza.
Knowing that environmental and other factors would be inevitable challenges, the playground was designed and constructed to be durable and resist vandalism.
The design’s already picked up several awards, including an American Society of Landscape Architects Northern California chapter merit award, and the 2019 Kirby Ward Fitzpatrick Prize from the Architectural Foundation of San Francisco.
Before the playgrounds were reimagined the dilapidated plaza had a reputation as a space best avoided, a place where the problems of homelessness were on full display. Play equipment was well past its prime.
But with the surrounding neighbourhoods growing fast, children needed a safe, energetic and imaginative outdoor space to hang out. ACLA embarked on a collaborative process with the Trust for Public Land and the Recreation and Parks Department encouraged inter-agency coordination and community participation for this challenging area.
Feedback from public meetings showed it was important to bring nature back into this urban environment. And most importantly, the space need to be unique to San Francisco. Which is where the fog came in.
The success of the finished design can be calculated in the number of people who use the playgrounds. Before renovation an average of 191 people a day used the facilities. Since renovation a whopping 900 people per day. If that’s not a ringing endorsement then I don’t know what is.