Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sakai and Oishi Nurseries

I started a new HALS project this week. My firm, PGAdesign was hired to prepare the HALS drawings for the Sakai and Oishi nurseries in Richmond, which are two of three remaining wholesale flower nurseries. Years ago there were several nurseries in this area owned by different Japanese families. Most were closed and demolished when Interstate 80 cut through this neighborhood.

These nurseries ceased operation a few years ago and since that time the buildings and structures have been vandalized and deteriorated from lack of use and maintenance, but the site is still an important cultural resource with a story to tell about a somewhat unique community of businesses and families.

PGA is working with a team of professionals that includes architectural and landscape historians to complete the HALS documentation. The HALS photography was done a few years ago by Brian Grogan – the same photographer we worked with at the Presidio on Doyle Drive. A separate group of architects is measuring and recording several of the buildings and structures that will be saved on site or moved to new locations. The remaining buildings will be demolished to make way for new housing.

Starting a project like this is much like doing a jig saw puzzle. You dump the pieces on the table, turn them over, and sort them by color, culling out the edge pieces. I had reviewed the background material before my first site visit, so I knew what I was looking at, but on day one, the site appears like a lot of loose pieces that one has to quickly sort and assemble.

My first task is to record what is existing in the landscape. The land survey depicts the property lines, locations of the buildings, greenhouses and other major structures. It also shows some of the paving, spot elevations and shrub masses. I look to see what does not appear on the survey, measure it and sketch it onto my plan. Sounds easy. Well, imagine that most of this site is covered in knee-high grass under which are open trenches, holes, thousands of broken panes of glass from the vandalized greenhouses, and pipes of various sizes and materials running everywhere – sometimes 10 feet overhead, sometimes buried, and often just on the surface – there for you to trip over. Walkways that need to be measured are buried under soil, some of the plants that need to be identified have no leaves, and in places the vegetation mass is so dense it is impenetrable. If you can imagine all that you begin to get the puzzle metaphor.

While in the field I measure and sketch, and I also take field photographs that help me confirm what I saw once I am back in the office. Sometimes I see things in the photographs that I had not really noticed in the field. I also use a digital recorder to describe details – this saves time because it is faster for me to record lengthy notes than to write them out. One recorded note explained, “there is a large diameter, red, rubber hose between greenhouses 12 and 13. It has heavy-duty, industrial-grade nozzles. We need to find out what this hose was used for.” I also photographed the hose placing my pencil in the image for scale.

This kind of detail is essential because one of our charges from the National Park Service is to explain not just what the nursery looked like, but how it functioned. This site is all about systems – circulation, watering, heating and cooling, fertilizing, spraying, and it is also where the Sakai and Oishi families lived. The system of pipes that traverse this site is a complex maze. In one location I counted 9 pipes – galvanized and PVC, some insulated, some not – all running in parallel, each with a different function – a three dimensional puzzle. I’ll tell you more about that, and more about the process in subsequent posts.

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