In 2023, the renowned Dutch architecture firm, MVRDV, completed the construction of “The Canyon,” firmly embedded in the pulsating heart of San Francisco’s evolving Mission Rock neighborhood. This distinctive 23-story tower epitomizes a pioneering confluence of sustainable principles, design elements drawn from local geology, and an emphasis on fostering a sense of community. A testament to the potential of forward-thinking architecture to effect urban transformation, “The Canyon” seamlessly melds ecological responsibility with urban functionality, all while offering an invigorating breath of contemporary living in the midst of the city’s dynamic rhythm.
The Canyon Tower Technical Information
- Architects: MVRDV
- Location: San Francisco, California, USA
- Client: SF Giants + Tishman Speyer
- Topics: Red Architecture, Apartments
- Area: 34,900 m2
- Completion Year: 2023
- Photographs: © Jason O’Rear, © Mission Rock Partnership
With our design we introduce a feeling of topography to make the building very much connected to its location. With the public ravine as its focal point, The Canyon creates a landscape of activity where the public realm connects to the shops, offices, and homes to keep Mission Rock busy and alive. And, thanks to the inclusion of below-market-rate rentals, it’s a neighborhood that will be accessible to the city’s nurses, teachers… and other essential workers that keep the city running.– Nathalie de Vries, MVRDV founding partner
The Canyon Tower Photographs
Geology-Inspired Sustainable Tower
Text by the Architects
“The Canyon”, a 23-story mixed-use building designed by MVRDV, was officially opened on June 2023 in a ceremony attended by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and the first residents are now moving in.
The project was built as part of a master plan that transforms a windswept parking lot on San Francisco’s waterfront into a new sustainable neighborhood known as Mission Rock, with housing for middle-income residents. With its jagged walls and a publicly accessible “canyon” providing a route through the site, The Canyon is reminiscent of the dramatic geology of California, inspired in part by San Francisco’s charismatic topography.
As MVRDV’s first completed project on the West Coast, The Canyon aims to introduce a mixture of local sensitivity and a cosmopolitan approach – in everything from the building’s public space to its mix of functions to the apartments it provides. Located opposite the Giants’ Oracle Park stadium, The Canyon is one of four buildings that form the first phase of the new Mission Rock Neighbourhood, which is being developed through a partnership of the San Francisco Giants, Tishman Speyer, and the Port of San Francisco.
These buildings were designed in a collaborative process in which four internationally renowned design firms – Studio Gang, Henning Larsen, and WorkAC, in addition to MVRDV – worked simultaneously, creating designs that worked seamlessly together while each having a distinct appearance. With its position in the northwest corner of the neighborhood, The Canyon is the first thing visitors see when crossing the 3rd Street Bridge and will soon be fronted by China Basin Park, a waterfront park and cultural centerpiece for the community.
The building comprises a five-story plinth, topped by a 73-meter (240-foot) tower in the western corner of the plot. Like all the buildings of the masterplan, the ground level of The Canyon hosts small-scale shops and restaurants that will help to establish a community feeling in the new neighborhood. In the case of The Canyon, the ground floor is topped by two floors of offices and then 283 apartments.
Over a third of these apartments are rented at below market rate, with residents selected via a lottery process, providing 102 homes for middle-income families and thus helping to alleviate San Francisco’s housing crisis. The Canyon is instantly recognizable thanks to its ruggedly textured red-brown façade. The design references Californian rock formations and features a landscaped public “canyon” that cuts diagonally through the building’s plinth, connecting to the offices and to shared amenities for residents. Providing a lush and lively space for both relaxing and working, the canyon also offers a shortcut from China Basin Park to the heart of the neighborhood.
The walls of the canyon and of the eastern side of the tower are jagged with step-backs and overhangs, giving the impression of steep rocky walls. These have the added benefit of creating bay windows and small balconies for 40 apartments, taking advantage of the views over San Francisco Bay. The roofs of the plinth are also landscaped with abundant greenery, creating communal spaces for residents to relax, exercise, or meet friends.
One benefit of the simultaneous design process for the master plan is that the four buildings share critical energy and water infrastructure. Based in the building designed by Work AC, for example, is a water recycling plant that will process black water from the whole neighborhood for reuse. For its part, The Canyon hosts the key mechanical elements of an efficient district heating system, hidden away in parts of the ground floor and basement.
The proximity to the San Francisco Bay provides the site with the opportunity to utilize bay water for both cooling and heating of Mission Rock via a water exchange system. The system leads to a reduction of CO2 and lower water and energy usage and, thus, lower bills for the tenants. Also located in the basement is bicycle parking, encouraging residents to take advantage of healthy and sustainable transport options. Together, these shared systems and interventions allow the neighborhood to significantly reduce its carbon emissions, and it will become one of the exemplary projects for the area.
The Canyon Tower Image Gallery
MVRDV is a globally recognized architecture and urban design firm based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, founded in 1993 by Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, and Nathalie de Vries, with their surnames forming the acronym MVRDV. The firm has garnered acclaim for its innovative and sometimes provocative architectural designs spanning a wide range of applications, from buildings and urban plans to research and publications. Celebrated for their unique blend of creativity and intellectual rigor in addressing projects of all scales, MVRDV’s portfolio boasts notable projects such as the Market Hall in Rotterdam and the Tianjin Binhai Library in China.
Notes & Additional Credits
- Partner in charge: Nathalie de Vries
- Partner: Frans de Witte
- Design Team: Fedor Bron, Mick van Gemert, Fouad Addou, Matteo Gramellini, Teodora Cirjan, Andrea Manente, Claudia Consonni, Aneta Rymsza, Marina Kounavi, Sandra Jasionyte, Ievgenia Koval, Nicolas Garin Odriozola, Paul van Herk, Kamila Korona
- Executive architect: Perry Architects
- Landscape architect: GLS Landscape/Architecture
- Structural engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates
- MEP: PAE Engineers
- Contractor: Swinerton Builders