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Presidio Tunnel Tops

Client: Presidio Trust
Collaboration: James Corner Field Operations
Location: San Francisco, California
Completion Date: Fall 2021

In collaboration with James Corner Field Operations and the Presidio Trust, Earthscape has designed a bespoke natural playscape for the Presidio Tunnel Tops. The custom playground includes forms that are authentic to the Presidio’s natural and cultural history. The place-based organic design aesthetic thoughtfully integrates with the National Park’s spectacular landscape.

The new playground offers a space for children and adults to experience and explore nature actively or passively on structures and topographical features.  The playscape appears to be conjured by nature while also compliant with safety and accessibility standards.  The five main features include:

FOREST DEN

The Forest Den is the most complex and challenging play feature. Inside it, you can imagine yourself down on your hands and knees exploring the forest floor like an insect.  The Den mimics a habitat of twigs, branches and logs of all sizes and diameters interspersed with net webs.  It transforms the shapes and textures of a forest floor eco-system into a magnificent custom climbing structure.

WOODLAND WALL

The design inspiration for the Woodland Wall is the tightly planted historic forest of the Presidio.  The forest is represented in a parametric wave of vertical logs that subtly lean forward and backward.  The different angles provide varied levels of challenge for climbers who can traverse the wall laterally from side to side. The climbing hand and footholds mimic habitat.

Adjacent to the wall is a mound composed entirely of oak steppers. Three taller columns deliberately obscure views, forcing children to go around them thus creating an element of surprise during a game of tag or hide-and-seek.  Together the wall and stepper mound create an environment for non-prescriptive challenge and play.

FALLEN TREE

Estimated to be 250 years old, the Fallen Tree is 75 feet (23 meters) long.  The senior white oak came to the end of its natural life after a storm felled the tree and lifted its roots. Cut into three sections, it was carefully removed from the forest then measured and evaluated for its new life in this new space.  Each segment of the tree weighs in excess of 15,000 lbs. (6,800 kgs).

Months were spent carefully sanding and hand-carving the tree as it was processed to remove any bark, sapwood and rot.  The result is a one-of-a-kind sculpture that is entirely organic and faithful to its natural form. The root flare section is now fully hollow, creating an even more amazing space to play with than what nature created.

HYDRO TUNNEL

In 2010, an archeological survey of the Tunnel Tops site revealed the construction of a subterranean water conveyance system that dated back to the 1850s.  The system had been designed to carry water from Mountain Lake to the City of San Francisco but was abandoned because of insufficient funds.  As a way to authentically represent the history of site, the hydro tunnel concept is brought to the present as a play feature.

BOWLINE SWING

As a kinetic play element, the Bowline Swing is more organic than traditional swing architecture.  The to and fro rope is suspended from large dimension timbers and is an unusual group play feature.  The materials and the name connect to the local port and the tall ships that are sometimes moored in the Bay harbour.

NESTS

An oriole’s nest inspired the design of the large play nest.  Its pear shape frames the structure that is fully climbable inside and out.  A ground level opening makes it more inclusive and gives access to two layers of interior nets.  A smaller nest, inspired by a hawk’s nest is a playful gathering space perfectly situated to take in the incredible vistas.  Over time, the nest will become a part of a living willow arrangement that will weave around the seating area.

ABOUT THE PRESIDIO TUNNEL TOPS

The Presidio Tunnel Tops is a newly created 14-acre public space in the Presidio of San Francisco, one of the most visited national park sites in the United States. It is located over and around the tunneled Presidio Parkway that leads to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The Tunnel Tops will connect the Presidio’s Main Post with the waterfront below. A series of pathways, bluff landscapes, dynamic overlooks, and social gathering places make the Tunnel Tops a central place for locals and visitors from all over the world to meet and learn, to experience, to enjoy, and to forge new forms of community and events. Learn more at www.PresidioTunnelTops.org.