Mountain Lake Playground | San Francisco, CA, USA | Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson has completed Mountain Lake Park Playground, located near the shore of Mountain Lake on the southern edge of Presidio National Park in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond District. Initially built 30 years ago, this new community gathering space is state-of-the-art, accessible, and designed for all ages and demographics to enjoy.

“Our goal was to make the playground feel as though it had always been there, on the shore of Mountain Lake,” said Aaron Gomez, Project Architect with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. “We wanted it to be specific to this place, to this part of San Francisco, and nowhere else.”

The renovated playground takes advantage of the site’s topography, with separate play areas on terraces, organized according to age and playability, threaded together by a series of meandering pathways that provide an accessible route throughout the playground. The centerpiece of the playground-a treasured concrete slide that cascades down the side of a large earthen mound-has been preserved, anchoring the updated playground to the cherished memories of the community’s past. Midway on the journey to the top of the slide, an observation platform sits perched on a forest of steel columns, evocative of the trees in the surrounding park. The platform overlooks the preschool area below while facilitating expansive views of Mountain Lake. Apertures in the platform provide framed moments of intrigue for the users both above and below.

Additional design elements draw on the rich natural history of the site. The ‘sand dunes’ of the preschool area represent the rolling sand dunes that once spread across the region; the ribbed pattern of the concrete walls is an abstraction of tulle reeds that line the shores of Mountain Lake; tracks of birds and animals native to the area imprint the surface of the wall that borders the school-age area; while large sculptures, including a frog and turtle, acknowledge the native aquatic life in the lake. These site-specific references are enriched by large timber play structures, giving the impression that they were fashioned from logs of the surrounding forests.

The effort to renovate the playground was spearheaded by a group of three local mothers, in partnership with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. The three women formed the ‘Friends of Mountain Lake Park Playground’ (FMLPP) in 2010, after they learned a renovation could only happen with the support of community advocates. The project was earmarked to receive funding through the Clean & Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond because of FMLPP’s initial efforts, which also included a substantial donation from the group itself. Remaining funds were raised mainly through small- and medium-sized donations from the community, as well as donated services from Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Lutsko Associates, and Holmes Structures.

Mountain Lake Park Playground

Location | San Francisco, CA, USA
Design Firm | Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Image Credits | © Nic Lehoux

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Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at