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Competition: Walk this Way, Oakland

The City of Oakland, California, has announced a two-stage design and construction competition for a $400,000 upgrade of its urban walkways and underpasses (Deadline: 14 December)

Open to architects, landscape architects, engineers and designers, the contest seeks a streetscape strategy to replace decaying and inhospitable spaces beneath the city’s busy interstate highway known as the I-880 Freeway.

Proposals should extend at least one block in each direction from the freeway and improve traffic safety and the local environment. Public art and landscape concepts that are visible from a distance are encouraged.



Underneath the I-880 Freeway

According to the brief: ‘Walk this Way: The Broadway/Webster Project aims to transform the areas around, under and through the Broadway and Webster Street underpasses of the I-880 Freeway into a beautiful, safe, walkable, inviting, green and iconic passageway connecting Downtown Oakland and the Waterfront.

‘The City of Oakland seeks the best talent in urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, lighting design, engineering, transportation planning, acoustics, public art and community engagement to reimagine a new future for this key area of Downtown Oakland and to develop new tools to address the many underpasses that challenge our neighbourhoods citywide.’

Oakland is the third largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a population of more than 400,000, and the fifth busiest port in the United States.

Its main thoroughfare, Broadway, connects the downtown area to the city’s waterfront, serving as the primary pedestrian and vehicular corridor for Old Oakland, Chinatown and the Jack London District.



The Broadway/Webster Project

Running parallel to Broadway is Webster Street, a key pedestrian and vehicle route between Oakland and the neighbouring island city of Alameda via a road tunnel.

The elevated I-880 Freeway structure has been blamed for blighting the area surrounding the Broadway and Webster Street underpasses and reducing its vibrancy.

The area under the freeway is occupied by many homeless people, and considered to be a poor environment both for pedestrians and cyclists. Proposals for the site must combine transport planning, urban design, architecture, public art and street lighting.

Conceptual strategies should include new signage and wayfinding devices, improved landscaping, new trees and street furniture, and potential new uses for large unused spaces beneath the freeway.

Schemes are encouraged to harness data analysis and community engagement and to create an overall vision for the project which could lead to further city-wide regeneration.

The competition comes nine years after the city completed a $2.6 million public realm upgrade of its nearby Chinatown district dubbed ‘Revive Chinatown’.

Up to $400,000 is available for the project’s first phase, while the funding for phase two will be determined during discussions between the City of Oakland and the winning team.

Finalists will be invited to present their schemes during an interview in February, and the winning team will be announced in mid-March.

How to apply


The deadline for submissions is 2pm local time (PST) on 14 December.

Contact details

Christina Ferracane
Oakland Department of Planning and Building
Office of the City Administrator
Department of Contracts and Compliance
250 Frank Ogowa Plaza
Suite 3341
CA 94612

Tel: +1 (510) 238-3190

View the competition website for more information

Folly for a Flyover case study: Q&A with Mat Leung

The member of Turner Prize-winning Assemble discusses lessons learned designing a temporary venue beneath the East Way in London

How did your Folly for a Flyover transform perceptions of an underused space beneath a flyover?

We’ve always had an interest in the spaces of infrastructure. This is partly because there are lots of opportunities in spaces which are neglected and aren’t seen as valuable, which appeals to us as a young practice. The space under the East Way was no exception. It was slightly to one side, just off the canal path, under the cover of the flyover, and gated off as an inaccessible island. Although our project was only a temporary one, the site has been opened up permanently and has had some capital investment in public realm works. Hopefully it feels more like a public space in which people want to spend time in, or would choose to pass through, rather than a place that people walk past with hurriedly.



Source: Image by David Vintiner

Folly for a Flyover by Assemble

Which architectural, material and other methods did you harness?

There are lots of things that we had to consider simultaneously, given the unusual nature of the site and the project’s temporary nature. We felt like there needed to be a strong narrative element, so the idea of the structure being the home of a stubborn house-owner around which the flyover was built was appealing. In this sense the wooden ‘bricks’ made from reclaimed timber were important in communicating this idea in a material sense (these were later re-purposed as hardwood planters for the local primary school). Probably the most important part of it was the programme of events we held over the course of the summer. We teamed up with a huge range of people and organisations for this, and attempted to demonstrate the viability of the undercroft as a welcoming public space.



Source: Image by David Vintiner

Folly for a Flyover by Assemble

What advice would you have to participants on designing a ‘beautiful, safe, walkable and inviting’ transformation of Oakland’s underpasses?

Our project was very specific and came with its own set of tactics that we developed through a close reading of the site and its opportunities. It goes without saying that spending time existing in that part of the city is integral to the understanding of the site as a place. Also, I think the idea that these kinds of projects are ‘remedial’ or are seen as ‘improvements’ is worth challenging; it’s more a question of ‘wouldn’t it be amazing if…’.



Folly for a Flyover by Assemble