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Photo courtesy of the SF Giants
Photo courtesy of the SF Giants

The Yard at Mission Rock



    In 2012 the San Francisco Giants Development Group invited Rebar – whose talented team members now form part of Gehl Studio San Francisco - into their ballpark parking lot in the port of San Francisco, where they have won the bid to develop San Francisco’s newest waterfront neighbourhood.

    The site between the SOMA and Mission Bay neighbourhoods boasts spectacular views of the Ballpark, San Francisco Bay, and the Bay Bridge, and will be the future home Mission Rock – a 3.6 million square foot mixed-use development.

    Currently, the Mission Rock project forms part of Gehl Studio San Francisco’s ongoing work. Prior to the initiation of the development, this former railyard site is a blank slate with masses of potential to kick-start the project. Using the Gehl methodology of first life, then space and finally buildings, our design of The Yard at Mission Rock is a temporary project planned to use the time prior to construction to begin to build the culture of a new neighbourhood.

    Prototyping Neighbourhood Culture

    At Gehl we often work with our clients to test concepts and ideas in public spaces. Our measure-test-refine approach provides ways to improve community outreach and public participation, test spatial ideas and concepts, and build relationships between the public, the project owner and businesses and institutions.

    The design for The Yard at Mission Rock is based on a light and flexible physical infrastructure capable of expanding and contracting as the site and programmes change: a temporary village of shipping containers bringing some of the best elements of great neighbourhoods to the site. These include local food and drink, a rotating selection of pop-up shops, cultural programming, plus public amenities, like large steps, decking, park furniture, greenery and a promenade for strolling and relaxing – all prototyping the kind of urban culture that can generate life in the future neighbourhood.

    From Parking Lot to Neighbourhood

    Everything we love about cities and neighbourhoods is created over time by the people that make up the city. The urban culture of a good neighbourhood takes time to cultivate. Relationships with neighbours, a familiar walk home, friends you bump into in the park, a favourite window seat at a café. Through early activation we can prototype the conditions of quality urbanity – the social life, chance encounters and opportunities for discovery – that generate the welcoming feeling of a city space for people

    The Yard at Mission Rock will allow the San Francisco Giants to test urban design concepts and relationships with potential future tenants and cultural programmers in a low-risk environment, as well as attracting businesses and customers to the first phases of the development. By creating places to gather, explore, relax and play, the project will put the site on the mental map of San Francisco, making it a destination for the people of the city with lots of ‘reasons to go’.

    In all our Gehl collaborations our first step is to shift the focus from concrete and steel (the hardware of cities) to responding to daily human experiences and needs (the software of cities). Also at Mission Rock, the focus of the container village is on the life we want to create, aiming for a minimum of hardware to support the quality of human interaction. It’s an approach that can be compared to a picnic versus fine dining. Both can be a great experience, but whilst a picnic can be just as much fun, just as delicious and just as filling, it demands considerably less hardware.

    An Invitation to a New Neighbourhood

    When there are events or games at the Giants’ ballpark, the Yard at Mission Rock will be a place to meet before, during and after the game.  On other days it will be a destination for the best of San Francisco’s culinary and cultural scene. Our cultural programming plan will bring life to the site every day of the week, with weekly, monthly, and special events hosted by local cultural organisations.

    Early activation projects invite the people of cities to be part of developing the culture of a new neighbourhood – before anything is set in stone. The success of the Yard at Mission Rock rests on partnering with restaurateurs, companies and community organizations that are leaders in their fields to create a welcoming destination for visitors supported by a vibrant public realm. The project prototypes what Mission Rock might feel like in the future – a future the people of the city can help shape. It also makes sound business sense for the San Francisco Giants. A relatively modest investment in culture not only sells real estate, it helps them continue to sell their idea back to the public they are inviting to be part of the project.

    Set to launch in early 2015, the Yard at Mission Rock will run for 2-5 years. It will provide an interconnected loop between life and form, where the flexible physical environment of the container village responds to people’s uses and needs to create usable, intelligent spaces and improve the quality of public life. Once it’s open for business, as on-going advisor we’ll keeping a critical eye on how it performs for people, identifying lessons to be learnt for the long-term master plan, and using our trusted, collaborative role to convince the city that Mission Rock should be a social, scenic destination open to all – a picnic where everyone’s invited.

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    Status: Built
    Location: San Francisco, CA
    Firm Role: Designer