James Corner Field Operations’ tunnel-topping San Francisco park is set for July debut

Tunnel Vision

James Corner Field Operations’ tunnel-topping San Francisco park is set for July debut

The Cliff Walk at Presidio Tunnel Top Park in San Francisco. (James Corner Field Operations/Courtesy Partnership for the Presidio)

San Francisco’s Partnership for the Presidio recently announced that one of the city’s most hotly anticipated park projects in years, Presidio Tunnel Tops, now has an official public opening date of July 17. Led by the Partnership for the Presidio and design partner James Corner Field Operations, the years-in-the-making $118 million project celebrated its “groundmaking” in November 2019 and was initially slated to open in October of last year.

The new 14-acre elevated park encompasses just a petite sliver of the Presidio, the 1,500-acre park and former U.S. Army outpost perched on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Yet despite its relatively small size within the sprawling footprint of the Presidio, the new park is set to have an outsized impact in a part of the city that’s experienced a remarkable transformation over the past two decades while retaining much of its historic character (and kooky landmarks).

Among other elements, visitors to Presidio Tunnel Tops will find winding cliffside trails, picnic areas, extensive gardens and meadows filled with native vegetation, a 2-acre natural play area for children dubbed the Outpost, and several elevated overlooks offering sweeping city and bridge views. The new swath of parkland will fuse back together the waterfront and Crissy Field, a former air field that now serves as a popular recreation hotspot, with the Presidio’s bustling historic Main Post.

rendering of a park plaza with sweeping san francisco views
Plaza view at Tunnel Top park (James Corner Field Operations/Courtesy Partnership for the Presidio)
Campfire Circle (James Corner Field Operations/Courtesy Partnership for the Presidio)

As described, Presidio Tunnel Tops is indeed located directly over a pair of tunnels known as the Presidio Parkway Tunnels. The tunnels were constructed to replace the old Doyle Drive, a seismically unsafe 1930s-era highway viaduct that for decades cut through the heart of the Presidio on its approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. With the highway now moved underground, the park that rests above it is now readying for its grand debut.

Since it was first announced in 2014 that Field Operations had won an international design competition to lead the project (other shortlisted teams included CMG Landscape Architecture, OLIN, Snøhetta, and West 8), comparisons  to New York City’s High Line have been frequent and inevitable. Field Operations, of course, was a core member of the High Line design team alongside Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Piet Oudolf. Both projects are “elevated” (albeit in very different ways) and both revolve around technically complex infrastructural overhauls. In the case of High Line, this involved the transformation of a long-defunct rail corridor stretching along Manhattan’s West Side into a public art-studded greenway. At the Presidio, a disruptive aging highway has been neatly buried and blanketed with a rolling expanse of public green space in a remarkable feat of engineering.

There are also key differences, chiefly among them being Presidio Tunnels Tops is not a traditional linear park like the High Line and the numerous projects that have followed in its formidable footsteps. Notably, Presidio Tunnel Tops is also located within the confines of a large national park further setting it apart from other High Line-y projects.

“The iconic setting is perfect for transforming highway infrastructure into a vibrant new public space,” said landscape architect James Corner in a previous statement.

birds eye rendering of a large park
Birds eye view of the 14-acre park. (James Corner Field Operations/Courtesy Partnership for the Presidio)

As noted by AN in 2019, Field Operations’ design makes use of the steep slopes required to clear the tunnels with the inclusion of seating steps molded from the lawn (the grassy amphitheater has appropriately been named as the Presidio Steps), viewing terraces, and an open plaza with a large unprogrammed platform.

In addition to the aforementioned tunnel-topping park features, adjacent amenities and attractions realized as part of the the project include a spacious pavilion, cozy-making campfire circle, and the the freshly revamped Crissy Field Center and the Field Station, a new indoor experiential learning center for kids. Both of these attraction will be located directly next to the Outpost, which will feature play elements created from boulders, fallen tree trunks, and other natural materials. On the opposite side of the park are the Presidio Transit and Visitors Centers.

rendering of a kids play area built from natural logs
The Outpost play area. (James Corner Field Operations/Courtesy Partnership for the Presidio)

Presidio Tunnel Tops was made possible in part donors who contributed to the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy’s $98 million capital campaign, which concluded in 2019.

Following its July 17 opening, the park will host a full schedule of to-be-announced events and activities through October.