Studio Gang. Henning Larsen. WorkAC. In San Francisco’s Mission Bay, a team of internationally renowned architects is reshaping a 28-acre stretch of the waterfront into a dense, mixed-use urban neighbourhood. Masterplanned by Pekins&Will and led by the MLB’s San Francisco Giants — whose stadium, Oracle Park, sits directly across Mission Creek Channel — the nascent Mission Rock district recently inaugurated the opening of its first major project, a striking residential tower by Rotterdam-based designers MVRDV.

Playfully dubbed The Canyon, the structure is immediately recognizable for its pixelated red-brown facade, which signals a pedestrian space that weaves through the heart of the site. Capped by a 23-storey tower at its western edge, the project comprises a five-storey podium structure with an elevated mid-block public walkway. Inspired by California’s natural rock formations, the ruggedly sculpted form evokes a geological setting — a sensibility shared by the firm’s Valley complex in Amsterdam.

“With our design we introduce a feeling of topography to make the building very much connected to its location”, says MVRDV founding partner Nathalie de Vries. “Crucially, this approach also enabled us to contribute to a lively neighbourhood: with the public ravine as its focal point, The Canyon creates a landscape of activity where the public realm connects to the shops, offices, and homes to keep Mission Rock busy and alive.”

Alongside street-level retail and two floors (and 5,400 square meters) of office space, the 34,900-square-metre development features 283 homes, including 102 apartments rented at below market rates. Intended for middle-income families, the rental suites were assigned via a lottery, and welcomed their first residents in June. As de Vries puts it, “It’s a neighbourhood that will be accessible to the city’s nurses, teachers… and other essential workers that keep the city running.”

The site’s close proximity to San Francisco Bay also allowed for a water exchange system, which channels bay water to both heat and cool the building. Thanks to a cohesive masterplan, the low-carbon mechanism — which is housed within the canyon — will extend to neighbouring properties. Additional integrated critical infrastructure is also shared between the area’s properties, with an adjacent development (designed by WorkAC) set to house a recycling plant that will process black water from the neighbourhood for reuse.

For MVRDV, The Canyon is an inaugural west coast project. Coming on the heels of New York City’s Radio Hotel and Tower — which was the firm’s first building in North America — the Dutch architects are quickly making their mark across the continent, including a recent commission to design the new medical faculty building at the University of Toronto. In Mission Rock, meanwhile, the vivid red tower is already a local landmark.

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