CMG Landscape Architecture

CMG Landscape Architecture

CMG Landscape Architecture is one of the coolest firms working in San Francisco today. Granted, I may be a little bit biased (full disclosure, my fiance works there), but they really are scooping up some of the biggest and most interesting projects in the Bay Area and beyond.
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They work at all scales, from a backyard 'crack garden' (flowers blooming in jackhammered crevices in an expanse of concrete); to public parks and plazas; to master plans for universities, waterfronts, and entire neighborhoods. As they've written on their website: "We have committed ourselves to the larger project of improving public life in our cities and deepening our relationship with the natural world. Our criteria for selecting an individual project is that it hold the potential to contribute to this larger vision. We search for opportunities to test our ideas and broaden our knowledge base while refining our craft. In addition, we look for opportunities to have fun." Here, a glimpse at some of my favorite projects of theirs. If you're interested to learn and hear more, check them out at Dwell on Design in LA on June 24; all three principals will be there, discussing their work and how we can make more public spaces vibrant and successful.

One of CMG's most recent and most publicly beloved projects is the rooftop sculpture garden at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which they designed together with Jensen Architects. Their integrated planter-benches and volcanic rock walls frame an outdoor gallery peppered with large-scale works by the likes of Ellsworth Kelly and Louise Bourgeois.


One afternoon last fall, the CMG team returned to the sculpture garden to add one final touch. As I reported in a post and slideshow, they 'inoculated' the volcanic stone walls with lichen spores to create what they call "the ultimate minimal garden." Over the next many years, the lichen will grow into patches of electric green and orange. The project architects Conger and Rayna Deniord, the project architect (shown here), conceived of the organism as a primal way of introducing nature into the otherwise spare, minimalist rooftop space.

Mint Plaza in San Francisco used to be a highly sketchy back alley. Today it's a vibrant public pedestrian plaza and festival space lined with restaurants and cafes, filled with dozens of movable bright orange chairs and shaded by a vine-covered steel trellis.

An aerial view of the plaza, which borders the old Mint building. Warm gray terrazzo-style concrete pavers provide a neutral backdrop for plaza activity. A statuesque native oak tree anchors the plaza’s eastern entrance.

To backtrack considerably... early in CMG's history (the firm was founded by Willett Moss, Kevin Conger, and Chris Guillard in 2000), came this compelling project: the Crack Garden, so called because a team of guerrilla gardeners jack-hammered and pick-axed grooves in a paved-over backyard to create space for a garden to bloom. Here's the team at work.

And here's the finished product. In 2009, the project garnered an Honor award from the ASLA in the Residential Design category. The 800-square foot garden cost just $500 to create.

Another blast from the past is the Panhandle Bandshell, a performance space built, with REBAR, out of almost exclusively recycled materials. That includes 65 automobile hoods, hundreds of computer circuit boards, and 3,000 plastic water bottles.

An interior view of the bandshell in situ, parked in front of Golden Gate Park, on the Panhandle.

The Bandshell in action.

A close-up of the Bandshell's interior, revealing the circuit boards and car hoods.

More recently, CMG has tackled a far more conceptual large-scale project: the re-envisioning of Treasure Island, a former military base at the center of San Francisco Bay. The firm's Treasure Island Redevelopment Master Plan transforms the windswept, barely inhabited base into a vibrant neighborhood that serves as a model for 21st century development.

If CMG's plan comes to fruition (and it looks like it will), this is what Treasure Island may look like in a number of years.

Among the hallmarks of the plan: a shifted grid of streets (to better buffer pedestrians from strong winds); a plethora of small neighborhood parks amid new housing; an area for urban agriculture; plenty of mixed-use buildings; and 250 acres of open space, parks, and a shoreline promenade.

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