Fort Mason Center

Swords into Paintbrushes

A former military base on San Francisco’s northern waterfront sets a new vision for the future.

Making the Inaccessible Accessible

Four decades or so back, the National Park Service took over Fort Mason and converted it into a nonprofit arts center. But the site needed an updated master plan for the future, and some of its facilities were falling into disrepair. Bay Area arts patrons launched a competition to discover a new vision for the location. The hurdles: as a onetime military base, Fort Mason was designed to be inaccessible, and it’s a highly protected historic landmark. It also looks out on San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. In other words, it’s a world-class site with complications to match.

All Together Now

Jensen embarked on a fantastic collaboration, partnering with the Dutch planning firm West 8 as well as economic advisors, marine engineers, and academics, among others. Together they embraced a collective, holistic approach to the site. The team weighed design interventions and considered sustainability models, all with the goal of improving the public grounds at Fort Mason and creating space for new or enhanced uses.

A Peerless Pier

Jensen focused on Pier One, which is a separate government lease from the rest of Fort Mason. Thorough analysis led to a proposal for a large-scale reinvention of Pier One as a public-private hybrid, with an art-oriented hotel that would incorporate a nonprofit exhibition gallery, a restaurant and cocktail lounge, and a day spa, all with stunning views of the bay, and all open to the public.

The Road Ahead

This winning plan succeeded in promoting a new identity for Fort Mason as a cultural center of unlimited possibility. Much work on the pier’s underpinning is needed before options like the hotel can be fully weighed. But improvements to the public grounds are already underway; the San Francisco Art Institute is now in residence, boosting foot traffic on the property; and other art institutions are inhabiting the buildings.

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture
San Francisco


The Architects Newspaper, “Fixing the Fort,” February 2013
Topos Magazine, “West 8 wins competition in San Francisco,” December 2012


Team Leader
West 8
Competition Design Team
West 8
Jensen Architects
Bionic Landscape
Studio Matrix
Project Leads
Jensen Architects:
Mark Jensen
Steven Huegli
Project Team
Jensen Architects:
Olya Piskun
Ricardo Gonzalez
Lauren Takeda


Architectural Resource Group
Economic Analyst
HR&A Advisors
Moffat & Nichol Engineers
Forell/Elsessor Engineers
Cost Estimating
Langdon Associates