Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Presidio (and Goldsworthy) - II

The Presidio exhibit related to the Andy Goldsworthy piece related much of the history of the site, along with Goldsworthy's interpretation. The story is quite interesting - more here ( To paraphrase, several species of the originally planted trees have been dying for various reasons, including climate, species selection, and soil conditions. Recently, the organization which oversees the Presidio has been planting new batches of trees to replace those dying - a new 2 to 3 acres of trees are planted each year to stagger the age of the growth and maintenance requirements.

Several articles I have read about this project since the trip speak of the "militaristic" alignment of the existing/original trees in the park. Apparently the army chose to plant trees in a grid, and this practice is being continued. From what I witnessed, the 2-3 acres being planted each year seem to follow with large swaths of single species. Given my brief experience in landscape architecture, I find this curious when current practices greatly discourage monocultures. I would like to dig up more information about what ecologists and arborists think about the Presidio from the standpoint of biodiversity. On the other hand, the aesthetic effect of the grids of plantings surrounding Goldsworthy's 'Spire' of matured and fallen trees is a powerful one.

The Presidio (and Goldsworthy) - I

When in San Francisco, I had an objective to get out of the city and into a more natural surrounding. Amidst the rain, I realized that I would likely have to settle for a hike through the Presidio during the few clear hours of my visit. Reinforcing this idea was the news that Andy Goldsworthy had recently installed a 'spire' in the park so I set out to learn more about it.

Little did I know before this trip, but the lush seeming Presidio that stands today is a man-made forest. What is more incredible is that the land originally (and not that long ago) consisted of marshy swamps and windblown sand dunes. In 1846, the US Army and eventually the Army Corps of Engineers worked to fill the land in order to build the better known military post and plant what has grown into a forest.

Hiking through the park, the Presidio as it stands today, open to the public, I was impressed to see some passive infrastructures at work. It seemed that hiking through the day after heavy rains was a good time to see the land at work.

Also interesting was spotting the breakdown of some of the enhanced natural systems and human interface of sandbags and piping.

The state of the park varied, particulary during the 'off season' for vegetation in CA. But the quality of the trees, meadows, and the chance to spot some more natural growth still gives a more wild and natural feel than a visitor might expect of a manmade site around 150 years old.