HOK Design for San Francisco’s Iconic Ghirardelli Square Wins ASLA Award for Historic Preservation
The American Society of Landscape Architects’ Northern California Chapter honored the project with a 2017 Merit Award.
For more than a century, Ghirardelli Square has been one of San Francisco’s most enduring, beloved public spaces. Anchoring the east end of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the square mediates the urban Embarcadero waterfront promenade with the softer parks, trails and dunes of Marina Green, Crissy Field and the Presidio Parklands. It serves many roles in the city’s urban fabric and regional open space network.
In 1962, landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and architect William Wurster repurposed the historic chocolate factory buildings into a tourist destination organized around a public plaza. Based on Ghirardelli Square’s cultural significance and value for future generations, San Francisco declared it an official city landmark in 1965. Almost 20 years later, the Woolen and Ghirardelli Buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Since then, a series of exterior alterations departed from the architects’ 1960s vision. The space began to suffer from inaccessibility, poor visual connections, excessive clutter, obstructed Bay views, incompatible materials and circulation pinch points. These challenges hindered use of the plaza and contributed to Ghirardelli Square’s decline.
HOK’s team led the creation of a new vision, master plan and design guidelines to revitalize Ghirardelli Square, and then designed several individual projects. Our city-approved plan identified several projects focused on improving public access; increasing day, night and year-round uses; strengthening transportation connections; installing regional plantings; and implementing compatible material and furnishing palettes.
One of the design challenges was gaining agency, city and public approval for the landscape material and plantings. To develop compatible palettes, HOK’s team spent many hours working the Halprin archives and with the City of San Francisco’s Historic Preservation Commission. The design solution meshes Halprin’s intentionally geometric planting layouts and layering techniques with regional and local plant species, greatly reducing irrigation demand, increasing species biodiversity and reinforcing Ghirardelli Square’s sustainable mission.
Today, the new Ghirardelli Square has returned as a vital part of San Francisco’s iconic waterfront, social fabric and urban landscape.
HOK’s team provided master planning, landscape architecture, lighting design, electrical engineering and plumbing engineering services.