Project Name: HARVEY MILK MEMORIAL Location: San Francisco, CA Year: 2017 Type: Memorial Collaborators: Design: James Mcnally, Andreas Kostopoulos; Lighting: Megan Pfeffer; Landscape: Gena Wirth Status: Competition
The new Harvey Milk Plaza is an urban scale “soapbox” networked into the cultural, political, and entrepreneurial life of the Castro. It stands as a living testament to Milk’s humanist values; as a vital space of democratic enfranchisement that gives voice and visibility to the people it serves.

In his “City of Neighborhoods” speech, Harvey Milk declares that his activism, his fight for equality, has always been rooted in making “the voice of the neighborhoods of this city be heard.” The new Plaza reflects this spirit of democratic enfranchisement by proposing an urban scale “soapbox” – a civic platform that empowers the diverse cultural, political, and entrepreneurial constituents of the Castro.

In a symbolic and functional gesture, the redesign extends the surface of the plaza up and over the Muni entrance, gradually tapering to form a triangular prow over the corner of Market and Castro Streets. This double-sided structure – amphitheater on top, canopy on the bottom – gives visibility and integrity to a site otherwise recessed below grade and fragmented by voids.

The underside of the structure, or canopy, is expressed as a mirror-like stainless steel shard, producing uncanny reflections of the stairway and channeling light into the station below. The vertex of the canopy defines the tip of the amphitheater on the opposite side, which juts fifteen feet above the sidewalk and alternates as a podium for performers during Pride, a pulpit for activists with bullhorns, or a vantage point for flaneurs overlooking the Castro. The amphitheater steps down to the focal point of the plaza – an open air performance ‘stage’ for groups like the Castro Theater, Lyric, and the Gay Men’s Chorus.

Exclamation fades to contemplation as the site assumes a more residential character to the west. A bosque of trees, also arrayed in a triangle, offers refuge from the bustle of the city and provides a visual and acoustic buffer for adjacent buildings. This is a place to linger, lounge, reflect, eat, read, and relax; where Yoga Tree Castro conducts outdoor classes, Dog Eared Books hosts afternoon reading circles, and the GLBT History Museum curates interactive exhibitions on the life and times of Harvey Milk. Tucked between the park and the retaining wall, a slow stair enables direct access to the station below.

At mezzanine level, a pop-up cafe activates the underground space and caffeinates hurried commuters.

The new Harvey Milk Plaza emerges as a resolution of opposites – of loud and quiet, fast and slow, solemn and celebratory, sunny and shady – all elements of a versatile and ever-changing civic realm that gives voice to the people it serves.