Crack Garden

San Francisco, CA

This garden is the takeover of an urban backyard, created by imposing a series of jackhammer “cracks” into a concrete slab.

Inspired by the tenacious plants that pioneer the tiny cracks of the urban landscape, the formal rows of the garden create order in the random and mixed planting of herbs, vegetables, strange flowers, and rogue weeds. The project is an exploration of the potential of a place and the clarity of an intervention. An act of removal exposes the soil beneath and creates the possibility for a new garden to emerge. Created in 1999 by a group of neighbors, the Crack Garden was a precursor to the current trend of tactical interventions.

Pre-existing places have an inherent identity based on their history, materiality, and activities. Our work is often conceived as an intervention that functions as a lens, altering the perception of a place rather than completely remaking it. The design can reveal the physical and material qualities of the place, and/or become a catalyst to incite new program activities.

Although extremely minimal in scope and budget, the Crack Garden is refined in the creation of well-programmed spaces for the residents of this four-unit building. The side of the garden along the resident’s building is kept open for social activities, and the plants selected for the cracks can tolerate foot traffic, which allows for multiple uses throughout the garden. A jacaranda tree adds scale to create an anchor for the garden, providing needed overhead definition to help contain the space, as well as filtered shade and summer color. Potato vine is planted along the fences and back wall to grow on the cable trellis, and a five-leaf akebia vine creates textural interest on the back wall. The planting within the cracks is somewhat random, changing regularly depending on the whims and desires of the resident gardeners, but usually includes a wide range of vegetables, herbs, and flowers.