Perkins Eastman

The New Harvey Milk Plaza: Designing Public Spaces for Civic Participation

San Francisco’s Castro district has been a gathering place for activists of every stripe for decades. And the corner of Castro and Market Streets is the crossroads of this historic neighborhood. So in November 2016, the Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza launched a design competition to commemorate Harvey Milk here, just a few blocks from the iconic figure’s former camera store and apartment.

After a year of vigorous debate over 33 entries, a winner was chosen: Perkins Eastman whose design imagined “a vibrant, active, living place that more fittingly honors Harvey Milk’s charismatic spirit and legacy as a community energizer and a vocal activist.”

Designers McCall Wood and Justin Skoda called their rising, tiered amphitheater a “human-activated place” because, beyond meeting the basic criteria of the competition, it serves the needs of rallies, public assemblies, and soap-boxers. I had the honor of interviewing Wood and Skoda about their design, the legacy of Harvey Milk, and what makes a public space conducive to holding public assembly.