Crissy Field

Designers: Hargreaves Associates | City: San Francisco, CA | Project Type: remediation, waterfront, habitat, brownfield
Date Visited: 11.21.12

Locations: 1199 East Beach San Francisco, CA
Size: 130 acres
Cost: $34 million
Official Opening Date: 2001

Crissy Field–the “front yard of San Francisco”–is an ever-changing complex and award-winning landscape with a richly layered natural and cultural past.

The relationship between humans and landscape at the site now known as Crissy Fields began with the Ohlone Indians who used the marshes as their seasonal homes. The landscape then passed through many uses, from the docking point for Spanish and Mexican warships to the U.S. Army airfield and military installations. After the airfield was closed down and while under the management of the U.S. Sixth Army, the site became a dumpsite for hazardous materials which subsequently led to heavy soil contamination. By the time the U.S. army handed over the land to the National Park Service in 1994, the area known as Crissy Field had been transformed into a “derelict concrete wasteland.

Starting in 1997, the National Park Service began “cleanup of hazardous materials on the site…[the cleanup] involved the removal of almost 90,000 tons of contaminated materials.” The transformation from industrial ruin and brownfield to one of the most widely used parks in San Francisco–for both people and wildlife–is a stunning tale of the transformative powers of landscape architecture, nature and community.

Hargreaves Associates, the nationally-acclaimed professional consulting firm comprised of landscape architects, architects and planners–Hargreaves was also the lead designer for the London 2012 Olympic Park–headed the redesign of Crissy Field and sought to rehabilitate the city’s coastline whilst drawing from the physical, cultural and historical context of the site.

Following the mantra “if we build it they will come,” the firm constructed an 18-acre tidal marsh, 16-acres of dune habitat and a diversity of recreational areas–spaces that have all successfully attracted people, flora and fauna back to the once-blighted site.

In making this “human-made natural resource,” Hargreaves recreated a naturalistic environment that incorporated modern, dune-like earth mounds–a physical reminder of the hand of man’s creation–to amplify “the convoluted landforms generated by bracing wind and wave attacks on an otherwise relentlessly flat site.”

Mary Margaret Jones, senior principal and president of Hargreaves says of the site: “We were more interested in experiencing nature as a system, a process. It’s rare to have such a powerful natural system in such an urban location…Usually, tidal marshes are far removed from urban areas. Here, a lot more people will see it.”

Aerial. Photo credit:

Aerial close-up. Photo credit:

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