Castles on Ocean Beach

About halfway through the morning, the situation looked doubtful. There was a partial collapse on one side and an oversized protrusion on the other. Some structural flaws were becoming apparent, and there was a major log jam in our supply chain—the bucket brigade had gotten distracted by splashing in the kiddie pool. It was the morning of the annual Leap Sandcastle Contest, and we feared that the EHDD/Nibbi team castle was headed for disaster—or at least a radical downsizing.

Leap is a San Francisco non-profit organization that brings arts education programs (from architecture to dance) into public school. Their annual Sandcastle Classic on Ocean Beach pairs architects and contractors with local schools to design and construct a 20’ by 20’ sandcastle over the course of one day. This year, we were tasked to produce a sandcastle fitting the theme “Things that Jump”. A week before, we had visited our partner class—5th graders at Junipero Serra Elementary School—and had brainstormed and drawn ideas about jumping creatures, people and objects. Back at the office, we created a composite design using the drawings as inspiration and material. Our final model showed monsters (heads & tails) jumping out from under a bed, with various animals jumping on top of the bed. The bed’s headboard was made up of castle-like towers, a recurring theme in the class’ drawings.

The design proved challenging to realize. We had made a huge heap of sand, but articulating right angles—for the bed edges and especially for the tall towers—was an ongoing process of shoveling, packing, minor landslides, and more shoveling. However, like so many design projects, a combination of modifications, stubbornness, and, of course, the application of more hands, more sand, and more water, got us past our midday disarray. We adjusted the towers to be tiered, rather than straight, and we added about 5 additional tails protruding from the “bed” to give it some support. This had the added bonus of giving the kids the chance to be creative at ground level with scales, spikes, etc.

The final product towered over the beach—one of the largest sandcastles in the contest. The extra tails gave it a ton of energy, as well as visual appeal from all directions. We are proud to announce that we won, “Highest Jump”. At the end of the afternoon, the kids trooped off to Muni, covered with sand, and talking excitedly about next year. We can’t wait, either.

Leah Marthinsen, LEED® AP BD+C