Populous provides design and branding services for The Crossing at East Cut, a large-scale temporary activation in San Francisco

December 17, 2021

Global design firm Populous served as design partner for The Crossing at East Cut, a multiphase, temporary activation at the Transbay Temporary Terminal in the downtown neighborhood of East Cut in San Francisco, Calif.  Populous transformed the nearly 3.5-acre block surrounded by Howard, Main, Folsom and Beale streets into an urban oasis whose first phase features a family-friendly beer garden, food trucks, soccer/sports fields and public art. An outdoor cinema, food and retail kiosks, a community marketplace, spaces for seasonal activations and play areas will be added during the second phase. The Crossing at East Cut will be activated through 2023.

Populous worked with East Cut Landing Partners to integrate and organize its vision for programming into an intersection of entertainment, wellness, community and immersive zones. The team conducted community outreach and included the feedback received into the development and activation of the site. Populous’ branding team also created branding elements for The Crossing from the ground up, developing concepts and establishing foundational storytelling components throughout the activation. This helps to identify the site as a “crossing” between the business and residential neighborhoods it straddles, while also reflecting the concept of moving from different on-site experiences throughout the day and evening.

“Our hope is that this type of temporary activation will have implications beyond San Francisco,” said Michael Lockwood, a senior principal at Populous. “The Crossing demonstrates how to create meaningful bonds in neighborhoods by playing to each region’s distinctive spirit. We are confident that this activation will serve as a model for creative and thoughtful temporary activations of communities as they are being redeveloped and built.”

The Transbay Temporary Terminal provided short-term bus terminal facilities during the construction of the new Salesforce Transit Center. In December 2020, East Cut Landing Partners began a reactivation of the site and engaged Populous as the architect and design partner. The firm drew on its decades of experience in bringing people together through unique and customized experiences to design The Crossing. The visionary designers behind San Francisco’s Oracle Park and other stadiums, arenas, and convention centers worldwide, Populous also develops temporary activations for the NFL’s Super Bowl, the Olympics and FIFA.

“The Crossing is transformative in creating value for a piece of land that traditionally would have stayed fenced off during the entitlement phase,” said Populous principal Riki Nishimura. “Instead of allowing spaces to go underutilized, we are giving the site back to the community, creating a place for people to enjoy what it’s like to be together again. While historically the site has been a gateway for people to arrive to and depart from the city for work, it is becoming a place where people can create their own journeys for the day and experience unforgettable moments with their families.”

Creating The Crossing’s Brand Identity from the Ground Up

Branding played a vital role in the creation of The Crossing at East Cut. Populous worked with East Cut Landing Partners to develop its brand foundation and visual assets that set the tone and a voice to the destination. The Crossing is an intersection of wellness, sustainability, community and entertainment. The asterisk logo Populous devised captures how these four elements overlap, suggesting motion and the diversity of interests that form this communal space. The asterisk is also a symbol for the 365-days-a-year nature of the space, constantly moving and adapting to reflect and attract new audiences.

Branding efforts also included the creation of colorful digital and print construction banners, which garner people’s interest both in person and on social media channels, as well as the brand’s presence on digital and web interfaces. The Populous team also incorporated QR codes on these banners so passersby can stay up to date on information regarding The Crossing. Colorful crosswalks and signs create inviting pathways for neighborhood workers and residents to “live” the brand.

As East Cut is an active neighborhood in San Francisco, branding elements for The Crossing had to work with the already established look and feel, as well as the existing conditions within the temporary bus terminal. Populous created conceptual renderings and phase-by-phase space planning to show East Cut Landing Partners and other stakeholders how the activation might work within the existing neighborhood and identified specific spots within the terminal where activations can take place.

“The Crossing is neither a permanent nor temporary installation — not long term or short term but somewhere in the middle; an actively changing experience — making it a whole new way to think about utilizing land and space,” said Nicole Williams, a Principal and Senior Graphic designer at Populous who led the branding efforts for The Crossing. “Our team collaborated with stakeholders to determine the best way to activate design elements in the city on an interim basis and how to create that boutique brand experience from scratch.”

While Populous is best known for its design of stadiums and arenas, it’s important to note the relevance of branding in architecture, a service the firm provides in tandem with project designers to add value to a project. “Branding and brand activation impacts spatial and architectural stories, making them that much more custom and original,” added Williams.

Giving San Francisco Residents a Place to Go

Working within the project’s budget meant forgoing demolition of the terminal’s existing elements, and Populous devised ways to work with what was already there, such as seating areas from the bus terminal, palm trees and other landscaping. The existing elements helped to inform the larger concept of The Crossing as Populous sought out to create a sense of place for visitors. A beer garden serves as a centralizing activation piece for The Crossing, a separation of the site of the community half from the more corporate half. The south end of the site has a cluster of high-rise residential towers, and that area of The Crossing is more mindful of the residents in terms of noise volume and community amenities.  Whereas on the north side, folks coming from work benefit from the active, more programmed space. However, the two sides often blend. Families who live in the high-rise towers have full use of the soccer fields, but there are also tournaments and scheduled events for corporate or community teams through Street Soccer USA. The Crossing, in this regard, is a way for people to get out of their buildings and back into the city after the pandemic kept us inside. It is intended to be an urban square, a place where people can come and engage at the street level, take a break during or after work, participate in community or wellness activities.

While Phase 1 is still under construction, plans for Phase 2 are underway. This phase will include an elevated bridge arching over a portion of the site, creating a unique amphitheater. Also imagined is a stage that would function as a modern-day town hall featuring performances, cultural events, and civic gatherings.


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