Category Archives: San Francisco

Introducing Hidden Hydrology

Regular readers of the blog know of my long-time passions of both Vegitecture and Hidden Hydrology, which both dovetail nicely into the larger themes of Landscape+Urbanism.  While the L+U blog has been relatively intermittent, I’ve been hard at work developing a new website and blog for the Hidden Hydrology project. The goal is to culminate the work in some form of publication, but regardless, it seemed time to focus on that element in it’s own.  I’m also giving a talk at the Washington ASLA conference in Spokane later this month (April 21), so excited to share more to a broader audience.  Simply put, the project is summarized as:

“Exploring lost rivers, buried creeks & disappeared streams. Connecting historic ecology + the modern metropolis.”


Without going into too much detail that may be gained by going to the site itself, the project is broken down into four sections.  The first section gives a quick overview of hidden hydrology and links to some of my original inspirations, including Anne Whiston Spirn and David James Duncan, along with an early, evocative map of Portland, along with the amazing historical ecology around the book Mannahatta.

A bit longer summary gives some context for the endeavor:  “At the basic level, hidden hydrology is the buried, piped and disappeared waterways that flow under our urban areas.  Development has driven underground these surface streams that used to weave through our cities – and with them we’ve lost the connection to natural systems, and robust ecological habitat that urban waterways can provide.  Beyond just focusing on pure daylighting and restoration, the exploration, mapping, and study of hidden hydrology offers new ways to conceptualize a range of interventions that reconnect us to our history and offer glimpses of solutions for the future.  It’s a broader concept of ‘restoration’ that looks through lenses of art, landscape architecture, urban ecology, and planning to define ways to celebrate, connect and regenerate our places.”


The second section are links to many of the resources available, including precedents, projects, and resources from around the globe.  While linking to the other pages, I’m also providing links to some of the posts, including a diverse mix from Rome to London, San Francisco to Lexington, Kentucky.  The range of projects isn’t limited to projects, but encompasses art, mapping, poetry, literature, dance, stream daylighting, films, community engagement, and history.

A couple of highlights, including the project “Ghost Arroyos” in San Francisco:

Or the cool mapping work of David Ramos in DC at Imaginary Terrain.


The third is an ongoing exploration of themes in a more expanded format, the site is built aroud a blog that has delved into some of the resources, and projects, but also allows for some rumination and coverage of original project work.   Of the 25 or so posts to date, many have covered cities and projects, expanding to case studies and deeper investigations.   These include projects inspired by hidden hydrology (such as Town Branch Commons in Lexington, top below), as well as historical maps and photos referenced in a literary context (Iain Sinclair’s ‘Swimming to Heaven’), and more in depth historical ecological studies (San Francisco Estuary Institute) to show a few.

1854 — The Corporation of London workmen repairing the Fleet sewer, south of Fleet street under the direction of Mr. W. Haywood. The sewers carried 87,000,000 gallon of water daily in 1854. — Image by © CORBIS

The diversity is what surprised me, to different tendrils which weave beyond just mapping but into a multitude of subjects.  An early post on the site, is illustrative of this concept, and is still one of my favorites, focused on the novel by Ben H. Winters, Underground Airlines and it’s use of the hidden hydrology of Indianapolis to tell a futuristic narrative of modern day slavery.

An excerpt from the novel explains this in a bit more detail.

“I cleared the trailer park and passed a jumble of picnic benches and playground equipment and stepped carefully down the slope of the ravine and swung the heavy beam of my flashlight along the creek.  Now it was clear, with the water swollen by the rains, the direction the brown water was still flowing.  The black mouth in the base of the shallow hill was an entrance, not an exit.  This low little trickle of mud water was a kind of rivulet, a poor cousin of a creek, and this spot behind the motor court is where some long-ago engineer had diverted it.
The creek was called Pogue’s Run. I’d found it on the map. I’d looked up the story.  This small waterway was discovered at the turn of the century – the eighteenth turning into the nineteenth — discovered and named and recorded, penciled in on early maps, when the city was not yet a city — when it was a gathering of huts, a stopping place on the way to other places.  The small river was inconvenient for the city fathers and the grid they’d drawn.  So they did just as Mama Walker said: they ran it underground.”

Beyond the fringes of hidden hydrology include some diversion into the very cool Atlas of Oblique Maps, a fascinating set of historical climate maps from the 1850s, and the ever popular Fisk maps of the evolution of changes to the Mississippi River.


The fourth, which is more of a long-term is projects, is still in nascent stage, but offers the potential to showcase original work around Hidden Hydrology, specifically in Portland and Seattle, but encompassing some other miscellany as well.  Currently it highlights some early presentations, as well as base-mapping of the Cadastral Survey for each city, the springboard for further analysis.

The Mississippi maps inspired me to use some of the documentations to animate the changing course of the river within the valley over the last 4000 years.  These more


There’s a ton of great information out there, yet it’s an area of study that seems relatively untapped and full of potential.  If you’d like to contribute, know of some great case studies, and have the bug for historical maps, and how these can inform ecological design today, give a shout.  In the interim, check out the site and follow @hiddenhydrology on Twitter.

And stay tuned for some more explorations here at L+U related to urban ecology and habitat, and more posts on some recent vegitecture, as I am working on some related projects and doing some more focused research in these realms.




San Francisco Hidden Hydrology

A project of note that made the rounds over the past month resonated with the concept of Hidden Hydrology.  The project ‘Ghost Arroyos‘, proposed as part of the Market Street Prototyping Festival  paints the town blue, in a sense.  I definitely like this idea, as we’ve discussed doing a similar exploration of Portland’s Tanner Creek.


From the Neighborland site description

“Every city has invisible histories embedded within its landscape. This project, “Ghost Arroyos” seeks to reveal the forgotten waterways of San Francisco through a simple, but powerful intervention. Situated between 7th and 9th street, the project will abstractly mark the footprint of Hayes Creek onto the urban surface. Visitors to the festival will be invited to trace the extent of the waterway while listening to a curated recording of hydrological soundscapes and oral histories”

Sounds much like the hidden hydrology proposals – and i’m curious to see it happen and what hurdles need to be overcome in implementation.  Also, the soundscapes and oral histories are an interesting concept – that we’ve been exploring as well, so lots of great alignment to draw from.

Upper Yosemite Creek Daylighting

In digging into this project a bit, there was also a link to a proposed actual creek daylighting being proposed by the City of San Francisco is the Upper Yosemite Creek.



From the site:  “The Upper Yosemite Creek Daylighting project will daylight the ephemeral historic Yosemite Creek to manage flows from 110 acres of McLaren Park. The creek will flow along the northern edge of McLaren Park from Yosemite marsh through Louis Sutter Playground and along the southern edge of University Mound Reservoir.  The project will feature a creek channel to convey stormwater and alleviate localized flooding issues as well as storage and infiltration facilities. This project is the first creek daylighting project initiated by the City and will reintroduce natural habitat and provide opportunities for community learning and beautification.”


The reports are worth checking out – as it’s an interesting concept.  The new ‘creek’ is a hybrid, while daylighting, the configuration, as seen above, interfaces with the built environment in a somewhat orderly manner and starts to look more like green stormwater infrastructure than natural waterways.  This mediating between what was and the ‘functional’ aspects of the restoration is worth further exploration.

Two great examples from San Francisco on hidden hydrology in action.

Reimagining Mapping

Always good to see modern cartography – and the unlocking (unleashing?) of potential of digital tools and mobile devices.  An interesting short post at Fast Company’s blog Co.Design looks at some work in mobile mapping (Nokia’s Next Platform) and some interesting tools, many that use nested tiling to make them more nimble.

I attempted to do some map examples, but it’s a bit unstable.  The embed/share interface is kinda buggy and won’t cut/paste the info.  The mapping tabs switching and navigating lagged and crashed quite a bit, until i finally gave up.  It seems more a beta than anything at this point. I did manage to get a snapshot of each map type – that shows some of options for visualization (in this case, San Francisco).





Mesh 1




Mesh 2


Mesh 3




While some of these are more visually interesting that helpful.  Some look like early Tron graphics or the jump to hyperspace – and i was really disappointed by watercolor.  But, these tools do does celebrate, at least somewhat, the agency of mapping that Corner proposes, and the prevalence of digital tools and access to technology that makes this easier for folks without extensive training and money to use tools to tell stories.

Or as, as Stamen CEO mentions on Fast Company:

“There’s a ton of space and room in this field for straight up visual representation as a way to engage the public.”

Check out more info on the methodology as well to give a full taste of the potential – through further customization via CSS – which unlocks event more potential.  Be a shame if you have to have a Nokia to tap into it though.



Field Trip: deYoung Museum

A new series offers some highlights of the epic roadtrip down the coast of California and over to Arizona and back to Oregon via Palm Springs – over two weeks of the holidays. These won’t be in any particular order – just grabbing what grabs my attention when sifting through photos.

deYoung Museum – San Francisco

A highlight indeed, and on my list of desired destinations, was the deYoung Museum in San Francisco. Located in Golden Gate Park, the museum building was designed by Herzog & de Meuron with landscape architecture by Walter Hood.


Most notable is the exterior cladding, which as we approached from behind the building, made for a very sci-fi type of form when approaching the tower. I could spend hours on the cladding alone – which to me becomes as important of a landscape feature as the site work – due to its texture and mutable materiality.DSC08248

The rhythm of inside and outside bumps offers a soft skin, which is punctuated at times with a grid of varying circles, which provide porosity to the skin and make what could have been a monolith more light. The copper lends itself to changing through oxidation to create a patina.



The greater site landscape itself is not trying too hard – but does a fair job of buoying the building in a minimalist scheme and creating some comfortable pockets of respite. The goal isn’t for a landscape of flash – but one of restraint, and Hood performs this task with alternating bands of concrete and lawn, with a few moments of more verdant foreground. The path right next to the building, which i find often disconnects building from site (the modernist floating structure) in this case allows one to get close to the copper cladding.



The highlight was the amazing entry installation called ‘Drawn Stone’ by Andy Goldsworthy, which is a subtle tracery that zig-zags and flows through the open courtyard space – a fine crack that connects through sandstone pavers and continues unabated through imported stone slabs to create a disparate yet connected composition of forms throughtout the space. With very little, the space feels very complete.



Inspired by the ‘techtonic topography’ per the signage, the earthquake faultline metaphor could have been a bit heavy handed, but i didn’t think of it until i read the words – which means it can connote different possibilities. As Goldsworthy mentions: “Stone and people making the same journey is for me a powerful expression of movement and of the great upheavals and displacements that have occurred to both.”



I’m not normally a big fan of these austere minimalist spaces – but the texture of walls and the layout of elements makes this work. It’s not a place to linger and zone out, but perhaps more to explore and hone in on the immaculate detailing. Guess that could be the takeaway for the whole building.



The interior spaces offer some spots of greenery, such as this shaftlike courtyard of ferns, which softened a bit of the angularity of the interior.


As the museum was closing, we didn’t tour the exhibits, but stopped for some refreshment in the cafe – which overlooked the central plaza garden. Oh, wait, what is that right across the street…?


Coming soon…