Image by Parsons

IAU-IdF, the Paris Region Architecture and Planning Institute, conducts research and advises the region on urban development and planning matters. Science campuses gathering universities, research labs and companies have been a major axis of development for the Paris region for many years. However, it remains difficult to assess the impact of science campuses on the economic development of territories. Laurent Perrin, Senior Urban Planner, and Odile Soulard, Economist at IAU-IdF, are studying the complex dynamics of urban development driven by science campuses through a multi-year research program: Science Cities: Science Campuses and Clusters in 21st Century Metropolises. It already led them to Switzerland (Zurich), Finland (Helsinki), South Korea (Seoul) and Singapore. For the USA, they decided to focus their study on Portland and San Francisco.

Mid-July, PRIME assisted Laurent Perrin and Odile Soulard in meeting public and private stakeholders involved in designing, building, and managing the Mission Bay District, a large-scale mixed-use development featuring a new campus for the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and its medical center.

Mission Bay is a 303-acre site located south of Caltrain commuter rail’s terminal station in San Francisco, and about 45-minutes walking from San Francisco Financial District. The site was once part of the bay, and was filled with potentially toxic material to develop industrial activities. From 1981, Mission Bay District saw the succession of four development proposals, which failed due to a complex ownership structure. The fifth plan succeeded and construction began in 1998.

The scale and complexity of the Mission Bay development plan were without precedent in San Francisco. Mission Bay can be studied through different perspectives and has a lot to teach about public-private partnership, construction best practices, and what driving force a campus can be for its surroundings.

The agreement between the developer and UCSF that led to the construction of their campus and medical center in Mission Bay was key in attracting companies’ offices and enabling the incubation of new start-ups. Among the first buildings completed was the California Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research (QB3), which hosts an incubator, Garage@UCSF, featuring 2,500 square feet of offices, wet laboratory space, and multi-function rooms. Mission Bay District aims at becoming an “Open Innovation” ecosystem, fostering the creation of life science and biotech start-ups, as well as research collaborations between companies and the university. Today, about 60 biotech companies are already located in Mission Bay.

As for the USCF Medical Center, it will cover 878,000 ground square feet, and aims at creating a timeless and transformative building, offering state-of-the-art medical technologies, and designed to optimize comfort for patients but also for their families. The role of relatives in patients’ care is today recognized as crucial. A third of the bedroom space is set up for them to sleep, work and interact with the patient. Architects also worked with medical staff on mock-up bedrooms to make work and movements easier. Finally, the plaza in front of the hospital has been redesigned to host community events and farmers’ market and integrate the building to its neighborhood.

At build-out, the UCSF campus is planned to have 20 buildings including the medical center, and employ over 9,000 scientists and technicians. Around the campus, 6 million square feet are zoned for flexible commercial and office uses, a third of which is likely to host labs and science researchers.

Mission Bay district is taking shape but is still under construction, with the UCSF Medical Center planned to open its doors early 2015. As David Prowler, President of Prowler, Inc. and former City’s project manager for Mission Bay and SBC Park, told us: “Mission Bay is not perfect, but it is still early to call the question on how it hangs together”.

As Paris and San Francisco renewed last year their sister cities program, insisting on their will to become smart and digital cities, PRIME was proud to help foster the dialogue between urban development stakeholders from the Paris Region and San Francisco, so that each City can continue to learn from each other.

PRIME would like to thank the people of the City of San Francisco, UCSF Hospital Construction team, SPUR and David Prowler Inc. who shared their knowledge of the project.

More about Mission Bay:

Articles by David Prowler for San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR):


IAU-IdF research papers: Science Cities: Science Campuses and Clusters in 21st Century Metropolises:

Author: Caroline Nowacki