Design Competition

In November 2016, FHMP engaged American Institute of Architects San Francisco (AIASF) to partner on a Design Competition to spawn more interest, ideas and visions for what might be possible at Harvey Milk Plaza. The AIA represents over 90,000 licensed architects and associated professionals in the US and brings an international profile to the project. AIASF proposed a design competition that would raise the profile of the project and engage the imaginations and efforts of skilled designers from around the world. The ultimate goal of the design competition was to select the design team responsible to work with FHMP, the community, city agencies and others in reimagining Harvey Milk Plaza.

The competition officially kicked off in April 2017, 33 initial entries were submitted by end of May 2017, three finalists selected in June 2017, revisions and designs resubmitted in September 2017 and the winning design team announced in October 2017. The process was invigorating, generating over 20,000 interactions on Neighborland alone.

SFMTA Accessibility Improvements Project

In June 2016, SFMTA (San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority) announced the Castro Accessibility Improvements Project, intended to address non-compliant ADA conditions at the Castro Muni Metro Station to comply with regulations that were not in effect when the station debuted in 1980. As part of a system-wide effort to improve Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access to Muni transit, the pavement and pedestrian areas around Castro Muni station will be improved and a second elevator will be added to provide continuous access to the station. Station improvements include widening the sidewalk, replacing the existing lighting, and regrading the pavement above the station. Acknowledging the significance of Harvey Milk Plaza, SFMTA also identifies opportunities for public art to commemorate Harvey Milk, for whom the plaza was named. 

Subsequently, in July 2017, the Castro CBD and the Castro Merchants learned about the SFMTA Accessibility Improvements Project at the Castro MUNI Station. In response, a coalition of citizens formed to restart conversations about making improvements to better honor Harvey Milk at Harvey Milk Plaza. After several meetings with MTA, it was clear that any improvements being proposed had to be finalized within just a few short months. Almost immediately, this group recognized that more time was needed to assess the opportunity and engage more community members in a discussion about the neighborhood's response, given the significance of the project's location. This group of community members later took on the name Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza (FHMP).

Although the FHMP Project and the SFMTA Accessibility Project are collaborative projects at the same site and naturally are in communication, planning is independent of one another. Throughout the process, opportunities for efficiency are being identified and leveraged as much as possible.


Community Meetings

In January 2017, FHMP hosted 2 community meetings in the Castro whereby anyone interested could join the conversation, attend these facilitated workshops to talk about concerns, voice input and share concept ideas for Harvey Milk Plaza. These meetings were publicized weeks in advance through social media, posted flyers, hand outs and conversations at the Castro Muni Metro station, as well email distribution to the local neighborhood networks. Community input and feedback are essential touch points for The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza, as this is a community space, part of our neighborhood and a vital transit artery. View the January 2017 Community Meeting Table Notes HERE!

Some of the community feedback included logistical challenges regarding the stairs into the Castro Muni Metro station from Harvey Milk Plaza, the wet and unsightly mats at the base of the stairs when it rains, the once beautiful garden impeded by the fenced off barrier, the seemingly afterthought of photographs dedicated to Harvey Milk, the treacherous transition from the bus platform on Market at Castro to the Muni Metro entrance and the overall, underwhelming experience at Harvey Milk Plaza. This input as well as other mediums for community feedback, contributed to the design competition and the renderings submitted through that process. The ongoing feedback loop will continue to be an important element in this process moving forward.


Collaborative Crowd Sourced

The community meetings generated ideas, concerns, enthusiasm, opportunity and engagement which served as the starting point for the design challenge. The design competition produced lots of concepts, surfaced a diverse design field and amplified the reach; enabling more community members to join the conversation and participate in the process.

Once three finalists had been identified, FHMP reached out to online platform Neighborland to host the community input initiative, which generated an overwhelming response. The Harvey Milk Plaza project received over 20,000 comments and interactions from over 11,000 unique visitors who viewed the two-week long survey, ranking this project as the most heavily trafficked ever in Neighborland’s history. Based on the data collected on this platform during these two weeks: 

  • 2,600 people participated in the survey component of FHMP Neighborland, contributing 4,000 survey responses
  • 47% of those who responded live or work in 94114
  • 50% utilize Harvey Milk Plaza daily, weekly or monthly.

AIASF managed the design competition on behalf of FHMP. Having AIASF lead the process allowed some distance between FHMP and the entrants. By design, the competition was unbiased and professionally orchestrated by AIASF. The competition was supported by four complementary sources of evaluation: Neighborland, Technical Advisors, Design Jury and FHMP. All four sources contributed to the design team finalist decision. The Technical Advisors and Design Jury included experts in a relevant field, community voices, city agencies, and architects.  

Neighborland Summary Analysis is available here.

Neighborland, community comment pins in response to Perkins Eastman rendering.

Neighborland, community comment pins in response to Perkins Eastman rendering.

Jury & Evaluation Criteria

The competition featured jury review of submissions with the goal of selecting three semifinalists then, after community input, a first place winner. The jury consisted of professionals and stakeholders with expertise in sectors such as architecture, landscape architecture, policy, transportation, civic art, and economic development. Submissions were evaluated anonymously based on:  

         Integration of memorial and/or art celebrating Harvey Milk
         Innovation and quality of architectural design
         Response to the brief, context, site opportunities, and constraints
         Clarity of presentation
         Thoughtfulness to cost and ability to phase construction
         (recognizing the simultaneous fundraising effort may require phased delivery)
         Consideration of health, safety, and comfort of users
         Attention to sustainability

The competition process began in late 2016 as a collaboration with FHMP, AIASF & Center for Architecture and Design. The official launch was January 2017 with a series of community meetings, followed by a published competition brief including details and entry requirements shared publicly. Initial submissions were due by end of May 2017 and the first round of evaluations of these 33 entrants happened over the summer of 2017. The field narrowed to 3 semifinalists in August 2017 and the winning design team was announced in early November 2017. The design team was selected by FHMP Steering Committee through careful consideration of the jury input and community input. The all volunteer jury invested a copious amount of personal time and expertise to this effort, for which we are enormously grateful.

Design Jury

            Brad Cloepfil, FAIA
            Michael Boland, Presidio Trust
            Gregg Cassin
            Jennifer Yoos, FAIA
            John Rahaim, Director - SF Planning Department
            Edgar Lopez, City Architect - SF Public Works
            George Hargraves, Founder & Sr. Principal - Hargraves Associates

Technical Advisors

            John Dennis, Landscape Architect ASLA, LEED
            Tim Chan, BART
            Jane Chan, SF Public Works
            Tess Kavanagh, SF MTA
            Jennifer Lovvorn, SF Arts Commission
            Nicholas Perry, SF Planning Department

FHMP Steering Committee (at the time of the competition completion)

            Andrea Aiello, Castro/Upper Market CBD, FHMP President
            Brian Springfield, Vice President - Castro Merchants, FHMP Secretary
            Brian Gougherty, Castro/Upper Market CBD, FHMP Treasurer
            Robin Abad, SF Planning Department, FHMP Steering Committee
            John Dennis, Landscape Architect ASLA, LEED, FHMP Steering Committee
            Daniel Bergerac, President - Castro Merchants, FHMP Steering Committee
            Emanuel Yekutiel, Manny’s, FHMP Steering Committee

The Design Jury + Technical Advisors Summary Analysis is available here.
The FHMP Steering Committee Summary Analysis is available here.

The 3 Semifinalists

Perkins Eastman design team proposal summary: The new Harvey Milk Plaza is not a serene park, a stagnant statue, nor a passive museum. Rather, the new Harvey Milk Plaza is reimagined as a vibrant, active, living place that more fittingly honors Harvey Milk’s charismatic spirit and legacy as a community energizer and a vocal activist. The new Harvey Milk Plaza is a place that allows for and encourages political activism, community interactions, and the unfiltered display of self. A stepping and ramping amphitheater, set within a field of candles, transforms the corner of Castro and Market into a soapbox, not just for one, but for many.  This multi layered design also includes a timeline journey which takes the visitor through a series of important timeline thresholds in both Harvey’s life and the continued legacy of LGBTQ and civil rights advances after his assassination. This human activated place not only creates a distinct gateway to the Castro, but also allows this historic site to become a new architectural, yet human-scaled, icon in San Francisco, a city with a strong history of spaces for public discourse.

Groundworks design team proposal summary: Our proposal aspires to craft a fitting memorial for Harvey and a public plaza that honors his legacy of protest, revolt and community activism.  This is hallowed ground for the LGBT movement and we believe in creating a memorial that honors Harvey and reflects the faces of those he fought for and fought with, US.  Our proposal for the Harvey Milk Memorial is a reflective and mirror-like faceted panel adorned with his effervescent visage and his most moving and important quotes.  The panel is also intended to reflect the dynamism all those who visit the plaza; all creeds, all races, all walks of life.


Kuth Ranieri design team proposal summary: Harvey Milk Place is a welcoming door to the city’s historic Castro District and a destination to learn about the life (and times) of Harvey Milk. This public space is  defined by a ribbon of visual content that  traverses the street, plaza and pathways to Castro, Market and beyond.

Perkins Eastman, semifinalist.      Groundworks, semifinalist.          Kuth Ranieri, semifinalist.

The Winning Design Team

The winning entry from the design team led by Perkins Eastman, which included structural engineering by Arup, graphic design by Propp + Guerin, lighting design by Lightswitch SF, Inc and artwork by Cybele Lyle. Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza president, Andrea Aiello praised the design's "immersive experience" allowing people to interact with the memorial component.

The winning entry from the design team led by Perkins Eastman, which included structural engineering by Arup, graphic design by Propp + Guerin, lighting design by Lightswitch SF, Inc and artwork by Cybele Lyle. Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza president, Andrea Aiello praised the design's "immersive experience" allowing people to interact with the memorial component.

Perkins Eastman design team was selected as the winner of the Design Competition.  “While each of the three finalists delivered wonderful concepts for the future plaza, what set the submission from Perkins Eastman apart was their bold, immersive idea; passion for Harvey’s message; and willingness to iterate the design based on feedback during the competition process. We are excited to continue the design process with them and incorporate all the learning and input from the community to create a space that reflects the community’s values, including its love for Harvey and all that he stood for,” said Andrea Aiello, president of Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza and Executive Director of Castro Community Benefits District (CBD). “We envision a plaza that honors the contributions of Harvey Milk, and also inspires people to continue his mission.”