In Mission Rock, staggered rock forms define the facade of MVRDV's new project, The Canyon

Rock and Roll

In Mission Rock, staggered rock forms define the facade of MVRDV's new project, The Canyon

The Canyon, which takes inspiration from local geology, features an undulating, gorge-like form on its western face. (© Jason O’Rear)
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Architect: MVRDV
San Francisco, California
Completion Date:
January 2022

MVRDV’s The Canyon, a 23 story mixed-use building is one part of a larger master plan to redevelop a former parking lot near San Francisco’s waterfront into a new neighborhood, Mission Rock. The building, completed earlier this year, takes inspiration from local geology, as it features a jagged, gorge-like form on its western face.

The units along the western face appear to be carved in relief from the otherwise rectangular massing. Alternatively, the appearance of the square units might be likened to three-dimensional pixels or an arrangement of blocks in Minecraft. The design team conceived of this space as a metaphorical “ravine” that provides room for pedestrian circulating through the development.

Phase one of the Mission Rock development consists of four buildings designed by Studio Gang, Henning Larsen, Work AC, and MVRDV. (© Jason ORear)

The new Mission Rock development is adjacent to Oracle Park stadium, home of the San Francisco Giants, and is formed by four buildings; Studio Gang, Henning LarsenWork AC, and MVRDV designed one building with the understanding that their component projects would be part of the larger development. The Canyon occupies the northwest corner of the site and is home to 283 apartment units and two floors of office space. 102 of the units are rented below market rate to existing San Francisco residents through a lottery system. The base of the structure is a five-story plinth that supports the 240 foot tower above. On the ground floor, space has been allocated for retail and dining.

The design team chose glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) for the facade of the Canyon to emulate the rough texture of a rock formation. Precast concrete was also considered, however GFRC was selected for its lighter weight, which expedited the installation of deep soffits and returns. While precast concrete must be poured into a pre-ordained cast prior to installation, GFRC can be applied using a spray, making it easier to use in designs with significant variance in depth.

Frans de Witte, partner at MVRDV, described to AN how the concrete’s rugged texture was achieved: “This unique ribbed texture was made possible by the use of reusable rubber form liners to cast the molds in which the GFRC panels would eventually be produced. Facade manufacturer Clark Pacific procured a master mold negative for each of the three textures, which served as the bases to produce the rubber form liners for each panel type. Individual liners were then placed in panel forms and GFRC was sprayed over the top of them. The challenges associated with this process were due to the quantity of unique panels/form liners and ensuring that production stayed consistent and on track with schedule. Special attention had to be paid to ensuring the dimensional accuracy of the individual shapes, so that later they would be reflected in the concrete.”

De Witte added that MVRDV worked closely with the facade manufacturer Clark Pacific to “fine tune the entire envelope of the building, from the materiality to the panel breakup and joinery to simplify a very challenging GFRC facade.” In the preliminary design stages the firms trialed hundreds of material samples and developed mock-ups “capturing the typical facade conditions at the ‘pixel’ balcony and at flat elevations.” MVRDV also collaborated with local firm Perry Architects and consultant Heintges on the design and implementation of the facade.

The Canyon offers views of Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. (© Mission Rock Partnership)

The four projects within Mission Rock share energy and water infrastructure. Work AC’s B Block project contains a water recycling plant that is capable of filtering blackwater for reuse. Doing its part, The Canyon houses the mechanical components of the District Energy Heating System on its ground floor and basement level. Mission Rock also utilizes the San Francisco Bay to regulate temperature, making use of a water exchange system which provides partial heating and cooling. As an all-electric project, the development saves 1,600 tons in yearly carbon emissions. The roofs, or “mesa levels” of all four buildings on the site contain green terraces; The Canyon features a green roof atop its plinth.

The buildings massing creates two distinct microclimates on either side of the structure. (© Jason ORear)

The convergence of cool ocean currents and the extreme inland heat, which gives San Francisco its trademark fog, impacted the landscaping of The Canyon. De Witt shared that “the building massing creates two very distinctive and extreme microclimatic conditions.” The design team pulled from the northern California landscape for the project’s landscaping and landed on a “planting palette that responds to the Bay Area and unique conditions of the project.” From the facade to grounds, nature influenced nearly every aspect of the project.

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