2013 Awards

Design: Residential, High Density and Mixed Use

Merit Award

Mission Meadow: Family Courtyard
San Francisco, CA
Interstice Architects
Project Principal: Zoee Astrakhan and Andrew Dunbar
Project Designer: Amy Wolff
Client: Seven Hills Properties

From above, the graphic complexity of the project is revealed: the sunken patio “boxes”  and the linear character of connecting paths and surfaces  carve the chaotic meadow into geometric compositions along which the benches align like logs in a stream. The circular elements, aligned to their own infrastructural grid, appear to emerge spontaneously though both hard and soft surfaces lending a sense of fantasy and play to the formal language of the courtyard which is at once, an ecological oasis, a shared garden, a community gathering place, and a child’s backyard.
Wood elements give a deliberate linear grain and define the edges of the hard surface program areas in contrast to the curved smooth surfaces and soft forms that echo the cylindrical branches and domed canopies.
At night, the grid emerges as a regular datum of lights hovering in the encroaching vegetation. Creating pools of light in an axial rhythm through the space, this grid counterpoints the meandering paths and spontaneous seasonal growth of the vegetation.
The Lighting strategy further traces the infrastructural grid of the project. Like the trees,  lights are placed to register the systems at work below the roof-park meadow– they march on their own grid marking invisible roof drains and access points below the meadow so that these can be easily found and maintained as the vegetation matures around them.
From the seated horizon of a private patio, the progression of raised elements creates an intimacy with the meadow and a layered view through the courtyard.  to the “stage” and vine trellis beyond. The elevated meadow surrounds and encloses each private patio as perennials fill the interstitial spaces.
At the perimeter, dense plantings of native and adapted low shrubs combine with strategically located 8-foot vine-screens provide a much needed wind break and vegetated privacy from surrounding buildings. The plantings enclose this elevated “secret garden”, creating an urban oasis amidst the dense urban fabric where rainwater is collected slowed and filtered.
The vivid texture and movement of the foreground elements is played off against the austerity of the building envelope, taking advantage of the sunny Mission District of San Francisco, this raised courtyard offers the only park experience for several blocks of this inner city neighborhood where even backyards are in rare supply.
The deck surface morphs and folds from plane to solid to form an extended bench and raised stage for impromptu performances. From this central communal area arms of paths extend and connect to other smaller outlooks, private patios and intimate meadows, which are screened by ornamental trees providing shade and privacy from above.
The meadow is densely planted with seasonally emergent native plant materials providing a lush and fragrant ecology attracting a host of local fauna. Sage, Coyote Bush, Lupine, California Poppies, Douglas Iris, among others ensure that the courtyard is always occupied and alive with birds and insects that seek out this growing ecological asset.
Interior views frame moments of color and line as  furnishings provide contour and crisp abstract forms to contrast the soft organic patterns of the seasonally emergent vegetation. The limited material pallet of decking, benches, lights and planters are deployed to enhance scale and perspective from multiple viewpoints around the enclosed courtyard.
From the units above, the deck surface appears to “float” over the expansive park-like meadow dividing this giant “green sponge” into geometric patterns of subtly undulating vegetation. This elevated “ground” plane of meadow-depth soil produces a new at-grade condition 12 inches above finished floor into which private patios are hollowed out.
Pathways splay out and collect horizontally over the elevated “Ground Plane” connecting patios and common areas of various scales - while the vertical elements of trees and lights, register the strict grid of infrastructural elements. The minimal structure allows for deep planting only directly over columns in over-sized brightly poppy colored “bowls” which protrude through the paths, decks and program elements in a purposefully playful parade through the irregular park-like setting.

The Mission District is the true heart of San Francisco’s cultural and ethnic diversity, where higher urban density results in a conspicuous lack of green spaces.  New PUC on-site water management regulations, and the compelling lack of park space for children, called for a soft solution–one that could leverage the full 6000sf, on-podium courtyard, into a lush and vibrant focus for the 60-unit community living entirely atop a 40,000sf pharmacy.  The project utilizes the entire roof surface of the Mixed-Use Developments podium to create an inner-city elevated “meadow” of native and adapted plants–an oasis amidst the dense urban fabric. Over this invisible storm water “sponge”,  decking and pathways float and meander through the plantings, to allow access to a variety of programs.  Paths morph to form a raised stage, ramps,  a giant seat,  and intimate nooks ranging in scale from public communal spaces to private decks for individual “park-side” units.