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The new Harvey Milk Plaza is not a serene park, a stationary statue, nor a passive museum. Rather, the new Harvey Milk Plaza is reimagined as a vibrant, active, living place that more fittingly honors Harvey Milk’s charismatic spirit and legacy as a community energizer and a vocal activist. The new Harvey Milk Plaza is a place that allows for and encourages political activism, community interactions, and the unfiltered display of self. A stepping and ramping amphitheater, set within a field of candles, transforms the corner of Castro and Market into a soapbox, not just for one, but for many. This multi layered design also includes a timeline journey which takes the visitor through a series of important timeline thresholds in both Harvey’s life and the continued legacy of LGBTQ and civil rights advances after his assassination. This human activated place not only creates a distinct gateway to the Castro, but also allows this historic site to become a new architectural, yet human-scaled, icon in San Francisco, a city with a strong history of spaces for public discourse.
Perkins Eastman – Design Team Lead Arup – Structural Engineer
Harvey Milk once stood on a soapbox here at the corner of Castro and Market, an act that speaks to his greater legacy as a community activist. We sought to establish a place that allows Harvey’s legacy to live on and to create a place that honors the history of public discourse in the Castro Community. The new plaza design allows the corner of Castro and Market to continue to function as a soapbox. However the design is not just your typical soapbox for one, but is rather a soapbox for many and becomes a place for the entire neighborhood to gather, a living memorial where Harvey’s work can live on.
A large, open plaza at the Castro corner sits at the foot of an amphitheater which steps upwards, pointing towards Sutro Tower. The amphitheater is composed of a series of “stages” for seeing, hearing and watching, connected by a series of ramps and benches for pausing and listening. The significantly larger plaza supports a wide spectrum and scale of activity. An afternoon picnic with a friend or a small activist’s meetup on a Saturday or even a starting point for thousands of people to march down Market Street; the plaza welcomes everyone.
This new iconic piece of architecture is linked to San Francisco’s strong lineage of spaces for public activity. Located at the western terminus to Market Street, the amphitheater becomes an exciting urban counterbalance to the Ferry Building at Market’s eastern terminus. Inset into the amphitheater’s floor lay a series of bronze memorial thresholds that together create a timeline journey for visitors to experience Harvey’s achievements as they wind their way to the top. At the top, a glass monolith memorial surveys the community that Harvey served and helped to shape. Also at the top, visitors can experience sweeping views of the San Francisco skyline and the Castro neighborhood below. The timeline also commemorates important events in the continuing struggle for LGBTQ rights, with blank thresholds reserved for future events. Harvey’s unfinished journey becomes the visitor’s journey.
When the sun sets, the plaza begins to exhibit a different personality. The amphitheater is actually situated in a field of candle-like light fixtures. As night falls, the lights would begin to illuminate themselves and mimic the neighborhood’s evening energy with their hopeful glow. The candle elements are a permanent candlelight vigil that is reminiscent of the one that occurred the night Harvey was assassinated. The candles themselves are an important fundraising opportunity for the new Harvey Milk Plaza. Donors can become part of the tribute to Harvey’s legacy by purchasing a candle in the permanent vigil, engraved with their names and a quote.
The candles not only sit directly below and around the amphitheater but are also dispersed across Market Street, in Pink Triangle Park, in Jane Warner Plaza, and in the F Train turnaround. The candles unify both sides of the Market Street gateway to the Castro, allowing the new Harvey Milk Plaza to function at a larger scale and as an iconic terminus to Market Street.
The MUNI entrance is shifted to the West to create a larger plaza at the Castro and Market intersection. At the MUNI level, a Meeting Room provides space for community activities. The station is envisioned as a true gateway to the Castro. A video installation by a local artist helps to enliven the space and make it a vivacious, energized, and spirited front door to the neighborhood.
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This design concept properly honors Harvey Milk and the civil rights movement, inspiring visitors to learn more.
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