XTREME LA Charrette

Kristina Hill, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning


Kristina Hill, Kevin Conger (CMG Landscape Architecture), Brian Jencek (Hargreaves Associates) (Team Leaders)

Student Team: Joe Burg, Mael Castellan, Daniel Collazos, Eden Ferry, Marta Gual-Ricart, Johanna Hoffman, Rae Ishee, Erik Jensen, Nate Kauffman, Kevin Lenhart, Alana MacWhorter, Erica Nagy, Daniel Prostak, Mariel Steiner, Rebecca Sunter

Professionals: Valerie Ahyong (SmithGroupJJR), Ellen Calhoum (Studio Outside), Anna Cawrse (Design Workshop), Andrew Elmer (Populous), Lauren Hackney (PWP), David Malda (GGN), Sean McKay (Altamanu, Inc.), Whitney Proffitt (Coleman & Associates), Christian Runge (Mithun), Wesley Salazar (Kudela & Winheimer), Alexandra Tucker (Miles Associates), Haley Waterson (CMG Landscape Architecture), Aaron Williams (Schreiber Anderson Assoc.)

Project Description

XTREME LA is an annual two-day design charrette that brings together a select group of landscape architects and students as part of an intense creative experience focused on a critical landscape planning and design challenge. This year, the charrette addressed rising sea-level and habitat loss in the San Francisco Bay. Fifteen UC Berkeley MLA students partnered with 12 emerging professionals from around the country to imagine alternate futures for the Berkeley Pier and produce aesthetically and ecologically innovative ideas for shoreline design interventions.


Design can lead the way to new ideas about what it means to be human in our time, when we are confronted by an unusually urgent need to adapt beyond the capabilities of our current infrastructure. We live in an era of increasingly extreme rainfall and unusual weather patterns.

Coastal adaptation can be “culture-led,” not just engineered to do the least harm. If designs combine functional goals with unusual aesthetic experiences, coastal designs can inspire us all to act with courage and resourcefulness.


BCDC’s map of 55 inches (4.5 ft) of sea-level rise in the Central Bay.


Extreme weather events and gradual sea level rise have always created challenges for coastal design. The new challenge comes from evidence that the rate of sea-level rise is increasing, along with the likelihood of extreme rainfall and winds. It is becoming clearer that coastal development must change in order to accommodate new beaches, marshes and sub-tidal grasslands that will be needed when habitats that exist today are submerged.


The San Francisco Bay is a rich estuary environment, partially filled in the last 100 years for urban development and, as a result, is likely to face significant challenges from sea-level rise. The bay’s waterfront facilities were primarily built in the WWII era and the three decades of expansion that followed. Landfills became parks, marinas were constructed for boat owners, private industrial or ferry piers were abandoned and public fishing piers replaced them. The wetland fringes of the bay were mostly lost in urban areas, interrupting corridors that are critical to juvenile fish and shellfish populations in the bay.

The goal of the charrette was to propose new shoreline types and structures that will create new opportunities to experience this urban waterside environment, and to perceive, understand and adapt to environmental change. The client was the San Francisco Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission, which is actively seeking new prototypical proposals that can be applied around the bay, from San Francisco to San Jose to San Pablo Bay.

After a welcome dinner and introduction, the charrette kicked off on April 4, 2013, with lightning talks on shoreline ecology, pier history, and sea-level rise projections for the region. Then, participants headed down the Berkeley Marina to observe existing conditions and learn about fisheries of the bay with local forager and tour guide ‘Captain’ Kirk Lombard.


Back at Wurster Hall, the group agreed that protection of the marina’s capped landfill was nonnegotiable and from there, split into two smaller teams based loosely on concepts of retreat and defend. Retreat explored low-investment, minimal intervention strategies reliant on ‘soft’ infrastructure, while Defend focused on higher-investment, more resilient ‘hard’ infrastructure that would acknowledge and invite inundation.


Students work on shoreline adaptation designs and discuss their work. Photo: LuAnn Woodhouse.

On April 5, 2013, the final afternoon of the charrette, both teams presented their proposals along with a set of shoreline edge typologies that could be deployed as scalable interventions around the bay. Jurors included the client and BCDC Regulatory Program Director Brad McCrae, as well as a group of guests spanning design, policy, and scientific disciplines, including:

  • Jacinta McCann, Vice President, AECOM
  • Chris Diamond, Principal, Peter Walker and Associates
  • Katharyn Boyer, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Marine Biology, Ecology and Evolution, San Francisco State University
  • Liz Excell, Program Manager, The Bay Institute
  • Barbara Deutsch, Executive Director, Landscape Architecture Foundation
  • Bill Main, Honorary ASLA, CEO and President of the Board of Directors, Landscape Forms
  • Richard Heriford, President, Landscape Forms
  • Jennifer Wolch, Dean, College of Environmental Design
  • Linda Jewell, Professor of Landscape Architecture
  • John Roberts, Farrand Distinguished Professor, Landscape Architecture; Principal, John Northmore Roberts Associates

The proposals generated insightful feedback and spirited discussion. Guests praised the depth and creativity of the work and raised questions about the scope of certain ideas given the challenges of a public/private shoreline, as well as the complexity of balancing cultural and natural preservation priorities. Brian Jencek applauded the sharply contrasting approaches to the event’s prompt as a provocative suggestion of the spectrum of possible solutions to a problem as large and complex as the issue of sea-level rise in the bay.


Team leaders Brian Jencek and Kevin Conger introduce the final presentation; charrette client Brad McCrae of BCDC takes notes; Jacinta McCann of AECOM responds to the teams’ proposals. Photo: LuAnn Woodhouse.

Students and professionals have continued to develop ideas inspired by the event, including a proposed studio and new network of community assistance teams. The College of Environmental Design plans to organize a series of public-interest design charrettes in the future.

To learn more about the proposals generated during the event, see the gallery, and the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s upcoming report.