Article by Elisa García Nieto University of California San Francisco Regional Medical Center, by SWA, Fresno, California (USA) When working on a new project, landscape architects have to find suitable clues in their background and in the environment to define the best design strategy. We tend to think that contexts that do not impose a great number of conditions and limitations are more favorable to face. But there are vital challenges to overcome when sites seem not to have a clear identity of their own or references around them. The University of California San Francisco Medical Center is part of an ambitious plan consisting of multiple phases of development in a three-acre, empty area that had been divided into four regular regions, with a roundabout in the middle. The starting point was the creation of the educational building and its outside space in the northeast quadrant. The landscape architects of SWA were in charge of designing the public area.
University of California San Francisco Regional Medical Center
Working on Identity The most distinctive feature of the area was the rounded exterior perimeter, which was taken to align the educational building. The repetition of the curved geometry made it gain prominence through the architecture and created a vertical reference for the space. The landscape designers followed the same scheme, reinforcing what seemed to work as an identity footprint for the site, instead of entering a competition. Looking at the building and responding to its concave back facade, the design plays a mirror effect that tries to complete and enclose the pattern. Contrasting with the orthogonal borders of the plot, the curved geometry provides irregular walkways where both languages meet. The resulting space transmits a sense of unity and internal consistency.Alternative Strategies for an Essential Question Although the designs here are effective, there are other ways to work on reinforcing the identity of places. For example, the Australian Pop-up Park studied by LAN writer Nick Shannon, used temporary installations with flexible programs in a public park to take an active role in the community. In other cases, when the landscape has to brand a company or institution, providing an identity could be determined by a fixed use of colors, abstract concepts, or architecture. Corporate landscapes flow from being bold to offering support for the main masterpieces. The Geometrical Keys The first consequence of the design strategy in the medical center design that catches our eye is how it creates a center. This remarkable point is located inside the building and provides a strong connection with the open space because it is roofed but, at the same time, maintains features of the outside: a terraced amphitheater. It enlarges itself across the space in a sequence of parallel rings, drawing a focal composition. In the west side of the plot, there is another point of attention. There, as the educational building does not cover the external perimeter completely, the designers of SWA rounded it with a circular square. Radial lines go from its center to the border of the plot, sewing the space. The Layout Becomes a Landscape Mainly, this project uses the lines of a two-dimensional layout, playing with soft terraces and elements of horizontal development. The only exception is the lines of trees that provide shade for visitors and create a permeable barrier without interrupting visual connections. This keeps a clean and simple image of the space, which is visible from the windows of the building. Singular figures in the layout have been raised from the ground level, forming platforms with non-specific use. The lines that draw the curved geometry on paper become concrete, continuous benches in the design. In that way, all the design elements have been resolved within the unified layout. How Color Reinforces Design A simple palette of colors matches the reduced types of elements that compose the landscape. Artificial elements, such as the pavement that provide differentiated access along the rear of the building and the concrete benches painted in white, provide a spot of color. Otherwise, the predominant color in the design is a forever green, creating a relaxing, natural space. Vegetation in the form of a grass carpet invites users to take a break. Low shrubs along the northern facade of the building and the lines of trees are all in plain green. If you are interested in learning about more projects from SWA Group, check out some of LAN’s previous articles on designs such as The Sands Bethworks, written by Luis Eduardo Guísar Benítez, in which the designers faced challenges presented by an industrial environment. Go to comments
Full Project Credits For the University of California San Francisco Regional Medical Center:
Project Name: University of California San Francisco Regional Medical Center Type of Project: Exterior open space for medical education building Design: SWA Group (Landscape Architectural Services) Location: Fresno, California (USA) Client: FCA-Fong & Chan Architects Recommended Reading:
- Becoming an Urban Planner: A Guide to Careers in Planning and Urban Design by Michael Bayer
- Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature by Douglas Farrs
Article by Elisa García NietoPublished in