Connecting With Water: Three Civitas Pier Projects


san diego pier

While Civitas’ home is in the high plains of Denver, Colorado, we have decades of experience working in numerous waterfront locations including San DiegoTampaCalgaryWayzata and more. We are, in fact, passionate about water. It’s inextricably linked to the work we do as landscape architects and urban designers. Our projects have a significant impact on water and on the communities and ecosystems that depend on water’s availability, cleanliness and safety. We’re motivated to ensure that our impact is positive.

san diego master plan design

In recent years we’ve been working on several pier projects that connect people to the water. Our experience started with the Broadway Pier on San Diego’s North Embarcadero (illustrated in the plan featured above), where we’ve completed multiple projects with the Port of San Diego. Here we were not only motivated to create a beautiful urban waterfront space, but we also needed to facilitate the flow of the thousands of people who board and/or come ashore from the cruise ships that use the port and its piers. Especially when so many people are present, the relationship between the land and sea is often delicate, so we also designed a water quality band that cleanses the urban water that flows to the bay and that serves as a visual tie for the length of the waterfront promenade.

This is just one example of the impact we can have. Read on to learn more about our ongoing work with other piers in Southern California and beyond.

Ocean Beach Pier Renewal Project

A few miles northwest of San Diego’s Embarcadero, Ocean Beach Pier stretches more than 1,900 feet into the Pacific Ocean. This traditional concrete fishing pier – the longest on the U.S. west coast – was built in 1966 and now suffers from failing rebar and other structural systems. It also faces the challenges of sea level rise, as ocean waves already hit the door of the pier’s cafe. In 2018, the engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol studied the pier’s structure and determined it can’t be repaired and rather must be rebuilt if it is to survive. This gives the City of San Diego an opportunity to pursue a renewal of the pier, a project for which California has already designated $8.4 million in state funding.

ocean beach pier input session

For decades, Ocean Beach Pier has been one of San Diego’s most visited attractions with more than 500,000 people using it each year. While it’s popular with surfers who “shoot the pier” as they surf below it, the pier itself is a mostly linear experience for people who walk out to its end and then back to shore, taking in not only the expansive ocean views but also the varied views of the beaches and jetties to the north and coastal bluffs to the south. As a new pier is considered, there’s an opportunity to determine ways to make it more than a singular experience and keep people sticking around. Multiple public meetings are planned through 2024 in order to solicit input from the community about what they want. At the first meeting, on April 1, 2023 – which Civitas’ Scott JordanKyle Hopkins, and Wenlin Yang attended, as shown in the photo above – community members were invited to share their greatest experiences or memories of the pier, to record video messages about what the pier means to them, and to vote on what they feel is missing from the current pier experience. Seating? Shade? Art? Food and beverage? Fishing amenities? The input will be shared at the next two meetings in June and later this year, when the renewed pier’s guiding principles and design options will also be shared by the project team, which includes Moffatt & NicholRNT ArchitectsCook + Schmid, as well as Civitas.

Imperial Beach Pier

Move a few miles south along the coast and you’ll find San Diego’s Imperial Beach Pier. Here, construction is already underway to add new amenities to this iconic 60-year-old wood-plank pier. The southwestern-most pier in the continental United States, the 1,500 foot long Imperial Beach Pier has been similar to Ocean Beach Pier in that it’s mostly a linear experience. So the Port of San Diego has been motivated to make it more relevant and resilient, and to attract more foot traffic with a more comfortable and engaging experience.

imperial beach pier

The improvements merge function and art, with iconic shade elements and graphics that celebrate different ocean experiences – including two large signature canopies that reference surfers’ sensation of being beneath the waves, as shown in the rendering above – as well as concepts for custom furnishings and fishing facilities. Each is designed at different spots along the pier to draw people out over the water, connecting people more directly with the power of the ocean and the beauty of the coastal landscape. The organization of spaces creates a rhythm of movement and pause as one explores the pier, drawing visitors further out to the end of the pier while extending user stay.

Wayzata Panoway Boardwalk

Finally, travel more than a few miles – 1,924 miles, to be exact – and you’ll reach another Civitas pier-like project on the shore of Lake Minnetonka in Wayzata, Minnesota. Part of the multi-phase, multi-year Panoway on Wayzata Bay project, which restores the town’s natural connection to the lake and revitalizes its adjacent downtown district, this phase of the project involves building 1,200 feet of boardwalk and community docks, illustrated in the rendering below.

One notable detail sets this project apart from our work in Southern California: Lake Minnetonka is typically frozen from November through April each year with 12-18 inches of ice covering the lake. This can be damaging to the docks and boardwalk so we’re incorporating dock bubblers, which aerate the water and cause warm water to rise, preventing ice from building up and damaging the docks. On the boardwalk reinforced steel cone-shaped structural elements have also been added to the structural piers to break up the ice as it flows north during the spring thawing process. Our goal has been to design a system that protects the piers and the shoreline but doesn’t destabilize the ice itself. Even in the frozen winter, Lake Minnetonka is an important and irreplaceable part of the Wayzata community and its businesses. Ice fishing is a popular sport, and each February the town also hosts the Wayzata Chilly Open – a unique and memorable golf tournament held on the frozen lake.

In all our work, we seek this balance between nature and people, commerce and community. Water is central to all of it, and we’re especially proud of this work that creates connections with water. Reach out if you’re interested in learning more, or sharing your own ideas and experiences. We’d love to connect.

wayzata waterfront boardwalk