Heatherwick Studio reveals details of The Cove proposal for Piers 30–32 in San Francisco

Pier Review

Heatherwick Studio reveals details of The Cove proposal for Piers 30–32 in San Francisco

Heatherwick Studio has revealed further details for its proposed The Cove project, which would transform Piers 30–32 at the Embarcadero in San Francisco’s South Beach neighborhood into an overwater mixed-used district centered around a five-acre “ecological park.”

The piers—dubbed the Bermuda Triangle of waterfront development” by the San Francisco Chronicle—have set mostly empty (save for a deteriorating parking lot) since a massive fire tore through the old cargo wharf in 1986, destroying its historic pier sheds. In 2014, it was announced that the piers, the largest redevelopment site at the Embarcadero at 13 acres, would likely collapse within a decade without an investment of $87 million in repairs and seismic retrofitting work.

The redevelopment of Piers 30–32 has long been in the making although nothing, including potential plans for a new arena for NBA franchise the Golden State Warriors and, at one point, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, has ever come to fruition due to funding, political infighting, backlash from local residents, and other factors. However, the Port of San Francisco has been actively considering new proposals, as a Request for Proposals (RFP) was put out earlier this year although progress has been slow due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Envisioned by a group of developers, designers, engineers, consultants, and sustainability experts collectively known as EXP2, The Cove redevelopment proposal is helmed by San Francisco-based real estate development company Earthprise working alongside Sares Regis Group, Heatherwick Studio, and a long, illustrious, and mostly locally-based list of collaborators including Page & Turnbull, CMG Landscape Architecture, PAE, Kendall/Heaton Associates, and Paradigm Strategy.

illustration of a proposed mixed-use campus and park at pier 30 san francisco
Two sprawling buildings with offices, retail, restaurants, and more would flank a 5-acre park inspired by the rugged coastal landscape of Northern California. (Heatherwick Studio)

Like other redevelopment schemes past and present that have called for knocking the century-old piers down and replacing them, The Cove would also entail removing the piers and erecting a concrete structural pier system that would stand strong (and high) against earthquakes, sea-level rise, and other natural and manmade disasters. An executive summary points out that the existing piers already fall below current FEMA Base Flood Elevations. The proposal does not include a plan for an adjacent 2.3-acre of land, Seawall Lot 330, which is also up for redevelopment.

Atop the new piers, The Cove, a net-zero energy office park of sorts described as a “next-generation, high-performance waterfront community” would take the form of two large, low-rise timber buildings with modular, flexible designs that form a horseshoe shape around an expansive public green space and promenade. Together, the two solar shingle-clad buildings comprise 550,000 gross square feet.

As the project website describes the proposed “colorful, contemporary destination that celebrates the classic California coast and the history of the Embarcadero:”

“The publicly accessible park is a natural experience, an Eco-Transect, reminiscent of the California coastal headlands and bluffs. A pedestrian-friendly journey through the ecological park winds through a multi-use plaza, a rolling softscape of native terpene-laden trees and dune grasses, floating wetlands, an oval boardwalk, onward to a promontory, a bridge beyond, overlooking the bay.” 

Further details, including a complete 88-page proposal and more on The Cove’s ambitious commitment to resilient building technology, can be found at the project website. And while The Cove is certainly an attention-grabbing and ambitious vision, it’s worth noting that another proposal from Strada Investment Group and Trammel Crow Co. that includes 850 units of housing and a floating swimming pool, is the one recommended by city officials to move forward in the redevelopment process.