Parkmerced is a 191-acre 2,500 unit apartment development situated in the southwestern part of San Francisco, adjacent to the campus of San Francisco State University. It was developed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as part of a nationwide venture into real estate. It was designed by Leonard Schultze Associates, a New York City architect. The landscape was designed by Thomas Church, considered by many to be the father of modern landscape architecture in the United States, exerting an especially strong influence over the look of residential landscape architecture in the post-War years. There are two parts of the development: a low-rise section containing garden apartments constructed between 1940 and 1945; and high-rise towers located at the edges of the low-rise center, constructed between 1948 and 1951. Parkmerced’s significance lies especially with its landscaped public and semi-public spaces than with its buildings. Unfortunately, current plans by the new owner, Parkmerced Investors, LLP, and the University, are creating an assault that threatens to sweep Parkmerced off the map.
San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
This was Thomas Church’s first large commission and allowed him to put into practice his fundamental concepts for residential landscape. Each courtyard is different, responding to its particular topography and solar conditions, and each provides semi-private terraces adjoining the apartment’s living rooms, a shared lawn area, sidewalks, and a very wind-tolerant plant palette well-suited to this windy, foggy coastal setting. Curving walks and biomorphic shapes define the central lawns, while raised planters, wide steps, and low-maintenance planting groups give each courtyard its modern feeling. In the last few years, San Francisco State University has purchased several blocks of Parkmerced, and may soon replace at least five of these blocks with new student housing. In addition, the current owner of Parkmerced , working with the San Francisco office of SOM has developed a new Master Plan for the site that would demolish the remaining low-rise residential units and the Church landscape, replacing them with a taller, higher-density project, containing new housing, commercial uses, public transit and an entirely new landscape
Conceived of as outdoor rooms, each courtyard design offers a slightly different solution created by its individual topography and solar orientation. For fans of Thomas Church, walking through the interconnected courtyards of Parkmerced provides a primer on the Church residential landscape, offering a rare opportunity to experience firsthand the work of one of the country’s founding modernist landscape architects., demonstrating the design principles that went into his later, and more publicized, private landscape commissions.