Township Commons

Urban design critic John King of the San Francisco Chronicle described Township Commons as “a startling act of urban reinvention that, with time, should pull people from across the city to an area that until now has been off the map”. The park welcomes Oakland residents back to their waterfront with a bold and brave definition of a park. An adaptive re-use conceived with a radical imagination, the park is located within the footprint of the former 9th Avenue Terminal and is inspired by the shipping history as well as the natural history of the site. Select building elements including walls, trusses, and the imprint of loading dock geometry are preserved in the design but are also transformed to inspire and allow for new uses—including the creation of containers of coastal, drought-tolerant plants.

The design celebrates movement—evoking the past movements of trains, trucks, ships, and workers that exchanged goods at this site—but is reimagined as a place for people to move on bikes, scooters, roller skates, and on foot. It is a new typology of paved recreational space that is both a loop trail and a viewing platform with multiple ramps for smooth transition from participant to spectator. The project design successfully mixes toddlers, teenagers, and the elderly in one space without defining territories for separated or sanctioned use.

Deft edits of the original building structure define and order the open space. This project is not preservation, but a frank and sometimes humorous conversation between the past and the future. The building is reimagined as outdoor space with planted living rooms and a large grassy hill that unexpectedly occupies one end of structural bays. Each piece of salvaged truss is given a different purpose: closest to the retail area of the retrofitted 9th Avenue Terminal there is a large, open-air porch, nearby there is a garden truss with lush plantings and smaller seating nooks, and at the far end, the hill and truss provide the conditions for a stage and spectacle. The old loading docks for trucks are now the ramps onto an elevated deck with views overlooking the water. The loading dock numbers have been maintained and the number graphic connects to both the truss structure and the water. No longer guiding deliveries of goods and materials, the numbers evoke athletic endeavors and provide an informal infrastructure for pop-up events and meet-up locations.

An elevated south-facing deck with big water views is a new open space condition in Oakland where the waterfront has been largely industrial for many years. In simple language, Township Commons provides a boat deck for everyone without a boat. The expanse of deck can hold large numbers of people who want to relax on this new waterfront porch. It reintroduces the public to their estuary and the waterfront and will be an important trailhead for future waterfront parks that showcase the ecology of the estuary. The freedom to interpret the spaces provides a constant parade of people to watch and join.


This built project is an alluring homage to the industries that once occupied the site and increase a superlative public realm to an area in Oakland that much needs it. Its clarity is impressive. The jury was impressed by how the elements the architect kept were used and dispersed. The adaptive reuse works: There’s a sense of history there, giving communities much greater depth. The project is not overdesigned: The urban design gestures are large enough in their scale but it’s a ”light touch” which is hard to achieve.

– 2023 Urban Design Awards Jury

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