Locations: 1270 Battery Street San Francisco, CA 94103
Size: 5 acres
Official Opening Date: April 8, 1982
Lawrence Halprin is one of the most celebrated modernist landscape architects of the late-20th and early-21st century. A highly prolific designer who designed well into his late 80s, the key defining design element amongst his signature pieces is scoring, a way of noting movement throughout spaces. Movement, by both water and landscape, as well as the creation of pathways that would give people interesting and varied ways to explore a site was integral to his site design–a design philosophy that was largely inspired by his partnership with his wife Anna Shuman Halprin, who led a life as a dancer.
Commissioned by the Haas family, the heirs to Levi Strauss, Levi’s Plaza marks the site for the Levi Corporation’s campus as well as the keystone project that helped transform a once-blighted area into a vibrant urban environment. Instilling the company’s values within the design, Halprin split the five-acre park into two parts: a hardscape plaza and a soft, landscaped park.
On the eastern side lies the more park-like environment designed as a “transplanted piece of the Sierras,” as a way to pay homage to Levi Strauss’ beginnings, when he began work by selling riveted denim work pants to miners in the Sierra Nevada. The park could also be called a three-dimensional collage of water, plants and stone. A series of interactive, cascading waterfalls–a feature found in many Halprin designs–flow into a meandering stream that snakes through the park. A 72-ton carnelian granite boulder from South Dakota marks the centerpiece of the park’s focal point fountain.
To the west, the plaza’s hardscape area also features a large, interactive waterfall fountain. The fountain in the hardscape area, in contrast with the one in the softscape, is much more geometric (particularly the stepping platforms). I fell in love with Halprin’s interactive fountains starting with his large, Ira Keller fountain in Portland, OR. And though the fountains are smaller in scale at Levi’s Plaza Park, they still inspire wonder and draw people of all ages to and through the cascading waterfalls with stepping stone pathways.
Levi’s Plaza Park is hands-down one of my favorite parks in San Francisco. With its rolling hills, meandering stream, and lively waterfalls, the park is a unique and unexpected gem as well as a huge hit amongst families.