Oakland, California USA

Urban Masterplan and Public Park

The City of Oakland

4 City Blocks

Langan, Studio Valeche, Lumenworks, 360 Total Concept, Wilson Ihrig, Kittelson, Elizabeth Thomas, Wilson Ihrig, Stuart Lynn Company



UNDERSTORIES reimagines the underpasses beneath I-880 not as obstructions, but as unlikely catalysts for revealing past and future stories in the landscape integrating infrastructure, and incubating programs of activity. These stories are layered through design to create a new urban ecology along Broadway, Webster, and 6th Street while connecting Downtown Oakland with the Waterfront at Jack London Square creating a new "Urban H" at the interface between Downtown Oakland and Jack London Square.


Downtown Oakland is built on a combination of Merritt Sand and Dune Sand. Before Oakland was developed it was geologically and ecologically similar to the estuaries of Point Reyes. Using the collected run-off to reveal this latent ecology we can create seasonal wetlands and grasslands for native grasses. With less than 1% of California’s native grasslands remaining in the state, Oakland could become an unexpected environment for grassland conservation in California and inventing a new landscape understory at the “Oakland Urban H.”

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Combined with Broadway and Webster, 6th street and the zone North of I-880, can be utilized as a powerful West-East landscape corridor between Jefferson Park, the Chinese Garden Park, and the Lake Merrit Channel. The conceptual H-shape formed by the three streets creates a new pedestrian environment and a performative network integrating blue and green landscape systems.


The vast paved surfaces of I-880 and the surrounding urban streets can be a functional resource for the city. Rather than discharging untreated storm water underground and into the Oakland Estuary, the surface runoff from I-880 and the urban street grid can be collected along 6th Street and filtered through bioswales into constructed wetlands, creating new microclimates and habitats. If stored, this water can slowly be dispersed from reservoirs during the dry summer months.* The filtered runoff can be used in reflecting pools: reflecting light under the underpasses day and night while revealing an understory of water reuse and conservation.

* 24” annual rainfall x 20 road acres = 1.74 million cubic feet of water per year.


Combined with the landscape and water systems, the new "Urban H" has the potential to integrate Downtown Oakland, Old Oakland, and Chinatown with Jack London Square - and by extension Acorn, Uptown, and Laney College.


The East side of Broadway is designed as an open air plaza.  Stepped terraces and subtly depressed levels increase the volume of space while interactive Walter Kitundu sound scupltures playfully activate the space. On the West side, a sports venueallows the community to interact with the police through the Police Athletic Leauge (PAL) program within an open transparent space that contrasts with theopaque station adjacent. A compelling understory on race or culture could be articulated by artist Hank Willis Thomas’ through bronze sculptures ora pattern for the metal mesh enclosure. Overhead, semi-reflective perforated aluminum acoustic panels absorb road noise and enhance natural light. Utilizing the filtered road runoff, Chinese Koi ponds are positioned to the north of each side of Broadway to reflect natural light deeper into the space while creating a subtle entrance to Oakland Chinatown.



On Webster, the space under I-880 is envisioned as an informal open air plaza and amphitheater for unscripted art happenings, film screenings, informal gatherings, or casual seating. Mixed LED UV lighting is used to illuminate the underpass and grow shade tolerant plants.* Lane and paving changes reduce traffic and road noise. The plaza becomes an important node in a new linear park on Webster. The park begins as a boulevard with a new median and street trees in Downtown Oakland and continues under I-880 becoming constructed wetlands, grasslands, and forest habitats in the space of the Webster Green. Artist Fritz Haeg’s “animal estates” would be installed throughout, providing habitats for butterflys and birds creating a new ecological understory in Oakland.

*Low energy UV LED lighting is powered by new solar panels over the Alameda tunnel.