Roberto Rovira

  • Birdseye Perspective
  • Footings gradually shift as the tree grows
  • View up from inside structure
  • Rendered Plan | Exploded Axonometric | Section-Elevations
  • Section through Slip Footing
  • View from inside | Plate separation diagrams
  • Rendered Plan closeup
San Francisco Botanical Garden

The San Francisco Botanical Garden, which encompasses a botanically diverse and ecologically important collection of over 7500 varieties of plants on 55 acres within San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, sponsored an open, one-stage, international competition to select a design for the Gondwana Circle.

The Botanical Garden, owned by the City of San Francisco, sought a design solution that effectively communicated the historical significance of Gondwana in relation to the evolution and current horticultural communities of the Southern Hemisphere.


Project Statement:
Standing tall near the main entrance of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the Gondwana Circle sculpture acts as gateway, inviting visitors to explore the evolution of tectonic shifts in the world’s landmasses. Slender aluminum pipes were chosen as an easily constructible means to define volumes and display a trajectory of change. As the pipes rise from grade, they separate at angles. Against the backdrop of the sky, the perimeter of the sculpture’s opening at the top then reveals the gradual shifting of landmasses into the distinct continents we recognize today. Looking down, the story of a changing geology is told via displays embedded in the ground. A lone Totara Pine (Podocarpus totara), rising from the center, makes reference to the ancient trees of a long-gone era that was remarkable for its exotic and of ten majestic vegetation. As the tree slowly grows into a giant, it will force a quiet separation of the sculpture, pushing it apart into three volumes and underscoring the original separation of the earth’s landmasses. By means of a “gravity footing,” the project volumes have the ability to slide outward as a result of root and trunk growth, and as the surrounding paving, composed of sheared tree trunks and gravel, slowly gives way, decomposes and shifts. The narrow gap that initially defines the boundary between the landmasses, gently parts in a sculpture that changes gradually over time.

This project seeks to make sense of two competing realities: the steady slow-moving force of geologic shif t, against nature’s own tendency toward adaptive regeneration and fracturing. The idea is to recast the long-held notion of ear th’s aggressive separation as a more natural, and in fact beneficial, event that helped maintain the strength and diversity of the ear th as a whole. At the time the earth’s landmasses pulled apart, water that had flowed around the entire planet began pooling in defined regions of north and south. This series of events set in motion the climates and habitats that now occur at differing latitudes. In preparing the project, we sought to transcend creating a simple metaphorical sculpture to tell the story—“art as text.” Instead, our piece showcases a monumental occurrence of long ago, revealing the grandeur of the force that gave way to the tapestry of complex regions, as a result of powerful yet incremental transformation. We felt this was a potent narrative: the genesis and evolution of Gondwana. The Gondwana Circle sculpture should be one of purposeful elegance, implacable mass and inexorable change.

Project Team:
Roberto Rovira, Team Lead
Edgar Albandoz
Jeff Burris