A former landfill has traded its dirty past for a new start as a nature reserve at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay. To educate the community about the reclaimed landscape, architecture firm FOG Studio teamed up with the East Palo Alto community to design the Cooley Landing Education Center. The community project is a tale of triumph in overcoming significant site obstacles, from seismic concerns to leftover landfill hazards.
Selected by public vote to lead the design process, FOG Studio organized eight charrettes to determine the Cooley Landing Education Center’s program, form, material, and appearance with the community. The first phase of the project required capping potential hazards. The entire peninsula was covered with two feet of clean fill, while structural slabs and landscaping paving effectively capped the building site area.
The 4,000-square-foot community design project celebrates the history of the area formerly known as Ravenswood. “Its significance as a shipping hub in the 1800s is acknowledged by the hull and sail forms sculpted in wood, while the brickworks that supplied materials for San Francisco’s Palace Hotel are honored by the brick service cores,” write the architects. “Layers of detail and history are overlaid via design onto the building and site, in a wordless celebration of the past and present citizens of this bayside town.”
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The Cooley Landing Education Center houses exhibits on local natural history, community meeting spaces, learning facilities, a presentation room with audiovisual equipment, a warming kitchen, storage, and restrooms. The landscape is also designed to educate and features abstracted tidal sloughs that weave through the site and show off the flow and capture of stormwater runoff. The project won the Gallery category at the 2016 Architizer A+ Awards.
Images by Michael O’Callahan, FOG