Hargreaves Associates


The intersection of Interstate 280 and Highway 87 is a complex junction of landscape and infrastructure—sun, shade, roads, water, sound, cars, and pedestrians. To most it is a forbidding, yet somehow common landscape. This temporary installation, commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for the Revelatory Landscape Exhibition, exposed the landscape to investigation by setting up a contrast between its modern and archaic states through markings on the site.

For Markings, George Hargreaves and Mary Margaret Jones of Hargreaves Associates collaborated with the Native American linguist and poet Julian Lang to contrast the diverse layers of history and spatial dimension in an almost invisible site, under the interchange of I-280 and Highway 87, adjacent to Almaden Boulevard in San Jose, California. Once inhabited by the Chocheno people of the Costanoan tribal group, whose culture was integrally tied to the nearby Guadalupe River, the area has been primarily populated by a Latino community during the past two centuries. More recently, an expanding new culture, generated by the burgeoning high-tech industry, has joined the locality.

On a four-acre project site, the twenty-four pylons that support the road deck were painted with reflective silver paint to catch the light and render the massive pylons. Hargreaves Associates worked with Julian Lang, who devised a word scheme in Karuk and English that recalls concepts common to both Native American and modern cultures.  Words like Earth, river, path, and together translate to words that do not seem familiar—YUUX, ISHKEESH, IMPAAH, KOOVAN. Twenty-four words were applied to the pylons—Native American words face the river, and the English translations face the street. Between the road decks a five-hundred-foot-long landform allows one to view the word scheme at eye level.

The landform functions as a signifier of profound change on the site. It is a simple abstract expression of the gap between the road decks above and the light that hits the ground. With its presence, latent qualities of the familiar space are accentuated.  It is broad and straight, so the long view to the river is given emphasis and thrust. It is low and massive so that it brings scale to the pylons and their immense visual weight.  It is made of shaped earth, so the smooth surfaces of the infrastructure are brought into contrast.  The word scheme can be experienced in several ways. You can walk atop the landform reading English on the way to the river and Karuk on the way back. You can wander through the pylons to string together a sentence or a poem. You can translate each word one at a time, reading the front and then the back. No one path is better than another; each offers a different experience. The landform and words are like nothing else in this modern realm, and together they create the suspicion that the place has a purpose. Is it a carrier of ancient wisdom? A monument? Is it a place for reverence?

The exhibition goal was to encourage the public to take the time to see landscape that is culturally invisible. The curators set up the exhibition to instigate a “pilgrimage” to landscape installations throughout the Bay Area that revealed forgotten and left over places. Markings took an ordinary and common space and invited the public to review it with fresh eyes. This project was successful because it engaged its visitors and evoked new thought about an otherwise common place.

Design teams were provided with a budget of $15,000 for design and construction. The installation was open to the public for 6 months. Hargreaves Associates was the design lead for the Markings installation team. Hargreaves Associates, because of the budgetary constraints, was actively involved with the site selection, city permitting process, fund raising efforts, additional promotional efforts, and some of the construction that contributed to Markings high visibility and success.

Markings won a 2002 Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Hargreaves Associates is a professional consulting firm comprised of landscape architects and planners with offices in San Francisco, California; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and New York City. The firm combines the skills of landscape architecture, planning, and urban design with related disciplines to create memorable environments. The work is characterized by a philosophy of strong, simple design that responds in innovative ways to the unique set of forces exerted upon each site from both cultural and environmental processes.

This article was originally published in Landscape & Art, Summer 2003.

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