Heatherwick Studio proposes a resilient design for San Francisco’s waterfront

Heatherwick Studio has revealed plans for the Cove, a new waterfront development in San Francisco, California. Image courtesy Wire Collective
Heatherwick Studio has revealed plans for the Cove, a new waterfront development in San Francisco, California.
Image courtesy Wire Collective

Perched on its new resilient pier platform, the Cove in San Francisco’s waterfront, designed by Heatherwick Studio, will be a waterfront destination—a two-building workplace campus with a central 2-ha (5-acre) ecological public park. The next generation of buildings will total almost 51,097 m2 (550,000 gross sf) and feature large, 10,870 m2 (117,000 sf) of floor plates.

The flexible, modular design can accommodate workspace for single or multiple tenants, and a curated mix of retail offerings for the tenants and the community. The park is a natural experience, an eco-transect, reminiscent of the California coastal bluffs. A pedestrian friendly journey through the ecological park winds from the Embarcadero promenade through a multi-use plaza, a rolling softscape of native terpene-laden trees and dune grasses, carbon-sinking, floating wetlands, an oval boardwalk, onward to a promontory, and a bridge beyond, overlooking the bay.

The entire Cove is smaller than the original pier footprint, has less bay fill, is highly sustainable, and plans for net-zero carbon and International Living Future Institute (ILFI) certifications. Synchronization of the design and construction of the Cove with the new Embarcadero Seawall Program, including their interface, is critical for an integrated, seamless, waterfront experience and mutual project success.

“Let us save the piers and put the beach back into South Beach. Create a next generation, high performance waterfront community that uniquely identifies with San Francisco, its history, character, and values, and its neighborhoods and soft natural coastal landscapes,” Heatherwick Studio said in a press release. “Build a colorful, contemporary model destination that celebrates the classic California coast and the history of the Embarcadero, while serving as a warm, inviting urban (re)treat, a high value oasis, just steps away from the generic gloss of FiDi and Mission Bay.”

The resilient design for the Cove includes the full removal and replacement of the existing piers with a new and higher, modern structural concrete pier system. The existing piers are 108 years old, decades beyond a normal, useful service life, deteriorating, and have sustained a loss of structural capacity. More importantly, the existing pier deck and pile cap elevations are already below Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Base Flood Elevations and the building code standards of today, notwithstanding the additional, forecasted sea level rise of 1-m (3-ft) or more tomorrow. New, modern pier structures are necessary, ethically, to safeguard human health and safety, and financially, to create an enduring asset for future generations and attract investment over the long term. Overall, a core mission for the Cove is for it to have the resiliency capability built-in, to reasonably maintain business and community continuity in the face of accelerating natural and man-made threats and possible disasters.

Earthprise, the project development team, welcomes the opportunity to have a conversation with the Port of San Francisco, and to take the next steps in the implementation of the Cove. The proposal only covers Piers 30 to 32 and excludes Seawall Lot 330. “Importantly, although we believe strongly in the business framework to support our vision, our design for the Cove is preliminary and will be crafted and fine-tuned during future design phases,” Heatherwick Studio said.

Product delivery is anticipated in late 2026, assuming a timely start of the project and necessary project entitlements, and barring any significant disruptions during the six-year-long project.

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