Geology-inspired Tower “The Canyon” by MVRDV Complete

The Canyon, a 23-storey mixed-use building designed by MVRDV, was officially opened on June 21 with the first residents moving in. With its jagged walls and a publicly accessible “canyon” that is a public space, running through the site, The Canyon is reminiscent of the dramatic geology of California, inspired in part by San Francisco’s charismatic topography.

The Canyon project was built as part of a masterplan that transforms a windswept parking lot on San Francisco’s waterfront into a new sustainable neighbourhood, known as Mission Rock, with housing for middle income residents.

As MVRDV’s first completed project on the West Coast, The Canyon aims to introduce a mixture of local sensitivity and a cosmopolitan approach – in everything from the building’s public space to its mix of functions to the apartments it provides.

Located opposite the Giants’ Oracle Park stadium, The Canyon is one of four buildings that form the first phase of the new Mission Rock Neighbourhood, which is being developed through a partnership of the San Francisco Giants, Tishman Speyer and the Port of San Francisco. These buildings were designed in a collaborative process in which four internationally renowned design firms – Studio Gang, Henning Larsen, and WorkAC in addition to MVRDV – worked simultaneously, creating designs which worked seamlessly together while each having a distinct appearance.

With its position in the north-west corner of the neighbourhood, The Canyon is the first thing visitors see when crossing the 3rd Street Bridge, and will soon be fronted by China Basin Park, a waterfront park and cultural centrepiece for the community. The building comprises a five-storey plinth, topped by a 73-metre (240-foot) tower in the western corner of the plot. Like all the buildings of the masterplan, the ground level of The Canyon hosts small-scale shops and restaurants that will help to establish a community feeling in the new neighbourhood.

In the case of The Canyon, the ground floor is topped by two floors of offices, and then 283 apartments. Over a third of these apartments are rented at below market rate, with residents selected via a lottery process, providing 102 homes for middle-income families and thus helping to alleviate San Francisco’s housing crisis.

The Canyon is instantly recognisable thanks to its ruggedly textured red-brown façade. The design references Californian rock formations, and features a landscaped public “canyon” that cuts diagonally through the building’s plinth, connecting to the offices and to shared amenities for residents. Providing a lush and lively space for both relaxing and working, the canyon also offers a shortcut from China Basin Park to the heart of the neighbourhood. The walls of the canyon and of the eastern side of the tower are jagged with step-backs and overhangs giving the impression of steep rocky walls. These have the added benefit of creating bay windows and small balconies for 40 apartments, taking advantage of the views over the San Francisco Bay. The roofs of the plinth are also landscaped with abundant greenery, creating communal spaces for residents to relax, exercise, or meet friends.

“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. And, thanks to the inclusion of below-market-rate rentals, it’s a neighbourhood that will be accessible to the city’s nurses, teachers… and other essential workers that keep the city running.”

One benefit of the simultaneous design process for the masterplan is that the four buildings share critical energy and water infrastructure. Based in the building designed by Work AC, for example, is a water recycling plant that will process black water from the whole neighbourhood for reuse. For it part, The Canyon hosts the key mechanical elements of an efficient district heating system, hidden away in parts of the ground floor and basement. The proximity to the San Francisco Bay provides the site with the opportunity to utilise bay water for both cooling and heating of Mission Rock via a water exchange system. The system leads to a reduction of CO2 and lower water and energy usage and thus lower bills for the tenants. Also located in the basement is bicycle parking, encouraging residents to take advantage of healthy and sustainable transport options. Together, these shared systems and interventions allow the neighbourhood to significantly reduce its carbon emissions and it will become one of the exemplary projects for the area.