Urban reinvention: from shipping terminal to waterfront park in Oakland, California
Township Commons is part of the latest redevelopment of Oakland’s historic waterfront, with views of the neighboring city of San Francisco, located directly across the bay.
The 3-acre site that was designated for the new public park was almost entirely occupied by a municipal shipping terminal. When landscape architects Liz Einwiller and Sarah Kuehl first walked through this emblem of Oakland’s long history as a port town, they were fascinated by the beautiful steel construction.
Maybe there was a way to incorporate the spirit of the terminal in the park’s design?
Preserving and honoring the site’s heritage
The Einwiller Kuehl team found several ways to preserve and honor the site’s heritage. Building elements like walls, part of the steel construction, trusses, and the imprint of loading dock geometry were preserved in the project design. Other elements were transformed to inspire and allow for new uses—including the creation of containers for coastal, drought-tolerant plants.
Open for interpretation and designed for spatial conditions
The project also introduces a new type of paved recreational space that is both a loop trail and a viewing platform,
with multiple ramps for a smooth transition from participant to spectator.
“Township Commons was designed for spatial conditions, rather than specific landscape programs, and therefore the space is open to interpretation. The freedom to interpret the spaces provides a constant parade of people to watch and join.”
An innovatively inclusive space for everyone
The project design is innovative, successfully mixing toddlers, teenagers, and the elderly in one space without defining territories for separated or sanctioned use.
Numerous BLOC furniture pieces create human-scaled experiences within the industrial-sized space of a repurposed warehouse. The bright powder-coated color provides wayfinding as well as a visual and playful invitation to the public to enter and enjoy the space.
Groups of benches create gathering areas on a large open wood deck, while individual benches within framed concrete windows and along the water’s edge allow for relaxed seating with views. The expanse of the deck can hold large numbers of people who want to enjoy their new waterfront porch.
“In simple language Township Commons provides a boat deck for everyone without a boat. An elevated south-facing deck with big water views is a new open space amenity in Oakland where the waterfront has been largely industrial for many years.”
Township Commons, ASLA-NCC Honor Award, is a beautiful, highly functional, and flexible landscape that has already inspired a wide range of uses by the public and created a strong identity for the Brooklyn Basin neighborhood.
Urban design critic John King of the San Francisco Chronicle described Township Commons as “a startling act of urban reinvention that, with time, should pull people from across the city to an area that until now has been off the map".
And according to Einwiller Kuehl, the benefit has been immediate and essential to the mental and physical health of many people who are looking for accessible places to exercise, gather, dance, and reconnect with the natural world.
The park reintroduces the public to their estuary and the waterfront, and is an important trailhead for future waterfront parks that showcase the ecology of the estuary.
Location: Oakland, CA, USA
Client: Signature Development Group / ZOHP
Landscape architect: Einwiller Kuehl
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