Resilient by Design Challenge, San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the world’s most captivating waterfront cities. It also happens to be one of the most vulnerable – with the Bay Area predicted to confront sea level rises of up to 66 inches/​168 centimetres by the year 2100.

What if we could re-write the city’s future through a series of smart, sensitive design solutions? 

We formed a global design collective with exactly that ambition for the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge – a project that has the community and public officials working with local, national and international experts on the challenges of climate change and ecological disaster around the bay.

The program is tied to The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities network that aims to strengthen cities for the 21stcentury.

The Hassell+ collective was one of 10 design teams selected from a list of more than 50 contenders hailing from nine different countries. Our team – from Australia, the Netherlands and the Bay Area – understands designing for water, living with water and the immense potential waterfront places have for well-connected communities.

Our proposal features a network of green spaces, creeks and revived high streets serving as points of collection, connection and water management – from the ridgeline to the shoreline and across the bay via an enhanced ferry network. 

Hassell+ applied these Stage 1 research concepts to specific sites in South San Francisco and San Mateo County for the second stage of the project – the Collaborative Design Phase. 

Together, this work gives San Francisco a range of creative, evidence-based opportunities for strengthening their waterfronts and communities. 

The result? More vibrant, accessible public places for everyday use – and vital spaces for the city’s long-term environmental and emergency needs.


Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge


San Francisco, US






500 miles / 800km of shoreline


Hassell+ (Hassell, MVRDV, Deltares, Goudappel, Lotus Water, Civic Edge, Idyllist, Hatch, Page & Turnbull)

Design team

Richard Mullane, David Tickle, Chris Kelly, Ben Li, Chuhan Zhang, Hinok Cai, Wenrui Cui, Xi Wenyi, Xiaoli Zhao

The potential shoreline restoration projects equal 23,000 football fields in area.

>100 new and rejuvenated public spaces overall
>30 corridors connecting communities to bayside destinations
>10 significant regional public spaces on the bay

Hassell+ was drawn to the Resilient by Design challenge because of our shared passion and unique insight into designing for water and living with water. 

Hassell, originating from Australia, and Deltares + Goudappel, based in the Netherlands, share an acute understanding of the social, cultural, economic and ecological potential research-led design can unlock for waterfront communities. 

Bay Area partners – Lotus Water + Page & Turnbull + Hatch + Idyllist + Brown & Caldwell – added invaluable local knowledge and connections that shaped the team’s overall approach to the project.

Together, we have years of experience researching, listening and engaging with communities, and designing, prototyping and delivering integrated solutions.

Our interdisciplinary skills range from the design of the built environment to hydrology engineering, systems and product design, heritage assessment and community engagement. But our core strength is in three disciplines / areas of focus:

  • Design & Places
  • Hydrology & Ecology
  • Social Impact & Technology

Resilience to disaster is as much about how communities are able to organise themselves in urban areas as it is about major infrastructure. Resilience challenges are also interdependent with social issues, such as housing affordability, quality transport, and public access to the waterfront.

That’s why our team focused on establishing quality public spaces and stronger communities during the collaborative research phase of Resilient by Design. In a four week immersion, design teams learnt about Bay Area communities, and the unique assets and cultures that connect them.

Research advisors guided this phase, co-delivered with NGOs and government agencies. Then design teams looked at specific sites to prototype multi-benefit solutions that could apply at a regional scale.

Building resilience requires identifying challenges and opportunities at both large and small scales. This project began at the regional scale: first looking at the whole Bay Area and its nine counties, 101 cities and many neighbourhoods.

Our Collect and Connect’ response was inspired by the way people in the region used open spaces during both the 1906 San Francisco earthquake – one of the deadliest in US history – and more recent, devastating Northern California wildfires.

Taking our cue from these historic and current patterns of use, we proposed a new network of parklands and public spaces to connect and collect people and water – both before and during times of disaster – within three communities: East Oakland, Redwood City and South San Francisco.

This ultimately helped our international team create a toolkit’ we could apply to proposed sites in South San Francisco for the project’s second phase – collaborative design.


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