Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza San Francisco, CA Landscape, Californian Architecture Design Images

Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza, CA

May 19, 2021

Design: SWA Group

Location: Harvey Milk Plaza, San Francisco’s Castro District, California, USA

SWA Group Selected To Design Inclusive memorial At Harvey Milk Plaza In San Francisco Dedicated To Visionary LGBTQ+ Civil Rights Leader

Located in The Castro, the historic heart of San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community, the evolving memorial will emphasize inclusivity, activism, and hope

Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza San Francisco
renderings courtesy Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza & SWA Group

Harvey Milk Plaza Memorial News

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (May 19, 2021) – As we approach Harvey Milk Day (5/22), SWA Group announces the firm was selected to reimagine and design The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco, CA, in honor of the legacy of visionary civil and human rights leader Harvey Milk. The selection of SWA by Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza (FHMP) comes after a robust proposal process that included inviting 17 design firms to submit proposals, and interviewing four shortlisted firms. SWA has produced significant high-profile memorial projects, including the Sandy Hook Memorial in Newtown, CT; the Harry Truman Memorial at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, MO; and the Grand Candela Memorial, dedicated to the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso, TX.

Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza San Francisco design

Located at the corner of Castro and Market, The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza will support construction of LGBTQ+ space for the community and offer an opportunity to honor the history of the gay rights movement. The Castro District, a neighborhood at the heart of San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ community for decades, remains an iconic and prominent symbol of activism around the globe. FHMP and SWA have successfully hosted two virtual community meetings and will continue their robust outreach and engagement effort , intended to engage the community in the memorial’s design process and ensure inclusivity to all.

“Friends and SWA have already begun initial discussions around creating an unconventional and inclusive design process so these qualities of Harvey Milk and his legacy are inherently part of the design that is produced,” explained Brian Springfield, Interim Executive Director for FHMP. “Throughout this process, we have heard from the community that they want a ‘next generation’ memorial as unique and unconventional as Harvey himself. Now that SWA is on board, we are excited to re-engage with the public to explore what’s possible to honor Harvey Milk in a way that draws attention to the ongoing activism around issues of social justice, which Harvey championed during his lifetime. The memorial will be alive with Harvey’s politics including his call to others to get involved.”

Harvey Milk Plaza memorial San Francisco design

“We understand the significance of developing the site to become the focal point of Harvey’s message and his importance not only for the Castro neighborhood but also for the national and international community”, said SWA Project Lead, Daniel Cunningham. “We are excited by the potential for the redesign to properly capture the community’s ambitions and hopes, and we are committed to a dialogue that will help express them.”

He continued, “We believe the memorial should speak as loudly and unapologetically as Harvey did – not only about the progress he brought about but about the work that is still to be done. To be worthy of Harvey’s legacy, his memorial should be a living monument – relevant and impactful today – dedicated to realizing his vision of equality and authenticity for everyone, everywhere.”

SWA’s design, which is anticipated to be finalized later in 2021, features three core elements – Pedestal, Beacon, and Memorial Grove.

Harvey Milk Plaza San Francisco memorial California

The Pedestal figuratively and literally elevates some of Harvey Milk’s final words – “All I ask is for the movement to continue” – as recorded on the tapes to be released in the event of his death by assassination. Further, it highlights the history of events at Harvey Milk Plaza, and incorporates community feedback collected since 2017, providing a focal point for the public to address a crowd or event on the site and in the intersection. This approach honors Harvey not by placing him on a pedestal, but by creating a stage for the community and the movement: a living monument that changes over time.

Photography played a significant role in the life of Harvey Milk, and as seen through the iconic and enduring photographs of Milk protesting and celebrating in the streets of San Francisco.
The beacon acts as a digital monument that can be used to display historic photographs and tell the story not only of Harvey Milk, but also the history of the Castro, queer culture, and the struggles and victories of the movement. The digital component is flexible and nimble, allowing for change to represent messages of protest and celebration when the community gathers on the site. The Beacon can also act as a center of hope when people come together at Harvey Milk Plaza to console or support one another.

Memorial Grove:
Building on community support for a green memorial on the western edge of the site, the Memorial Grove is comprised of 11 trees, each with a symbolic meaning. Their number represents the months Harvey Milk served in his position as San Francisco Supervisor prior to his assassination, while each species has been chosen to represent places Harvey lived: a tree from his hometown in New York, a tree from Texas, where he spent a few of his younger years, and trees representing San Francisco. This eclectic collection of complementary but dissimilar trees epitomize Harvey’s informal personality and political style, as well as the beauty and diversity of the people of San Francisco.

SWA will lead a highly accomplished Bay Area team that shares their desire for an inclusive, pragmatic, and energetic design process. The team includes Civic Edge, an engagement firm who has cultivated partnerships with numerous SF agencies; Volume Inc., a creative agency known for their skill in leveraging visual communication and experience-based design to tell the story of a place; Peoples Associates Structural Engineers and Telamon Engineering (Engineer of Record), both of whom bring expert technical knowledge; and WSP, who will provide lighting design that balances safety, security, and sustainability needs with an artistic touch. The team brings the necessary creativity, vision, and experience both to realize bold and unconventional ideas and to ensure a successfully built project. The project is expected to be funded through a public-private partnership.

About The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza

The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza’s mission is to reimagine Harvey Milk Plaza as a welcoming, vibrant space that honors Harvey’s life and legacy, celebrates his enduring importance to the LGBTQ+ community, and inspires by acting as a beacon of hope to marginalized communities worldwide. The organization was formed in 2016, in response to SFMTA plans to install an elevator in the culturally sensitive Harvey Milk Plaza. FHMP has worked since its inception to see that the community’s aspirations for the plaza are realized during the work planned at the site. Those interested in learning more about FHMP and Harvey Milk Plaza project can visit

About SWA Group

SWA Group is a world-renowned landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm celebrated for its creativity, responsiveness, and design excellence. Our work gives new life to outdoor spaces at multiple scales – from public plazas to waterfronts to entire city districts – harnessing natural systems while enhancing the unique characteristics of each setting. SWA’s San Francisco studio is known for its ability to forge distinctive expression in the design of civic spaces, whether in its sensitively-conceived memorial for Sandy Hook in Connecticut or the versatile network of public space that unites San Francisco’s new Chase Center. SWA has studios in Dallas, Houston, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Sausalito, and Shanghai. For more information, please visit

Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza, CA images / information received 190521 from SWA Group

Location: Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro District, San Francisco, California, USA

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