AltaSea Master Plan Port of Los Angeles, San Pedro, California


William McDonough + Partners worked with the Port of Los Angeles officials, philanthropic leaders, marine scientists, students and community members to create a bold vision to transform City Dock No. 1, a 100-year-old pier at the Los Angeles Harbor in San Pedro, into a world-class urban marine research and innovation center.

The facility would feature circulating seawater labs, offices, classrooms, lecture halls, support facilities, an interpretive center, and an opportunity to develop the world’s largest seawater wave tank for studying tsunamis and rogue waves. The anchor tenant of Phase 1 will be the Southern California Marine Institute, a strategic alliance of 11 major universities in southern California that have marine science academic and research programs.

As designed and master planned by William McDonough + Partners:

Site and Structure: The AltaSea site will provide vibrant interactive and interpretive landscapes where terrestrial and marine ecologies meet.

The landscapes are living systems connected to the buildings mechanical, plumbing, and energy systems.  Water will be purified, energy optimized, and nutrients recovered and reused.

Seawater: AltaSea will produce the highest quality water for ocean study, research and development.

Bio-filtration gardens will filter water from the seawater system. Some six million gallons of salt water will flow through the system annually. Filtered seawater contains nutrients important to plant growth and health. The seawater landscape works by creating a nitrogen cycle. In this system, water is shared between a fish tank and linear grow beds. In the fish tank, fish produce waste that is high in ammonia content. Pumps carry this valuable resource to the growing beds, where bacteria process it into an extremely rich fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen.

The bio-filtration gardens will represent the diverse ecologies that occur when freshwater and seawater meet. These are the most diverse, ecologically rich, productive, and imperiled ecosystems in Southern California. The water gardens will contain shrimp, crabs, mussels, ell grass, kelp, terrestrial and wetland insects, Spartinia grass, Juncus, and other wetland plant species.

The gardens will fill a long narrow space between the Berth buildings and the public promenade with approximately 3500 sf of multi-tiered, cascading living water tanks, planters, and features that express the water treatment processes to visitors, residents, and tenants in captivating way. The water gardens next feed large shallow water wetlands designed for final cleaning and polishing of the water prior to returning to the ocean.

Nearly all saltwater used in the facility will be mechanically and biologically treated and returned to the ocean, cleaner than it was collected. The water gardens prevent 315 million gallons of seawater from going to the municipal water treatment plant.  One hundred percent of the accumulated nutrients recovered from the seawater treatment system will be re-used on site in the wetlands water gardens, and landscaping.

In a typical system of this size 2.25 million gallons a year of potable water is consumed for the seawater filtration processes. The AltaSea integrated water system will recycle storm-water, gray-water, and recovered water from the filtration process saving 2.25 million gallons per year of precious potable water.

Sitewater: AltaSea can capture, filter, treat and re-use at least 100,000 gallons of precious rain water every time it rains.

AltaSea can harvest approximately 1.9 million gallons of water per year. The harvested water will be reused for what are usually potable water needs such as flushing toilets and urinals and back flushing the mechanical filters in the seawater system. One hundred percent of water used for toilet flushing will be provided by storm water and grey water, saving approximately 100,000 gallons per year.

Built environment: AltaSea berths and structures will adaptively reuse the wharf, the buildings and the docks of culturally significant lands.

AltaSea will bring a productive use back to more than 46,000 square feet of buildings that are over a century old by adapting them into state of the art ocean research, education and enterprise development facilities.

An iconic translucent visitors center surrounded by reflective water will inspire visitors through its messaging, interpretation, and ocean research and initiatives. A prominent 40-foot tall display screen can continuously project films focusing on the AltaSea stories. The center will produce its own electricity; harvest its rain and grey water.

A large feature element is envisioned that will harvest moisture from the atmosphere, which is powered by energy from the sun … to produce an atmospheric effect of a cool visual cloud.

AltaSea will provide public access to historic wharves on the harbor that have long been blocked off and unavailable, as a continuation of the Port of Los Angeles Public Open Space Promenade.

Community: The AltaSea campus reinvigorate the local port communities, economies and social networks.

AltaSea will host more than 25,000 STEM-related visits by K-12 students each year bringing effective science learning and ocean learning into classrooms.  Through bi-weekly tours, inspiring open houses, garden tours, and public lecture series, AltaSea will make its conference facilities and campus available to the community as a public meeting space.

Energy: AltaSea will be renewably powered to the extent possible with present technologies energy positive.

AltaSea is exposed to 31,800kWh/day (5.3kWh/m²/day x 6,000m²) of the sun’s energy.   This free, renewable source of energy will provide almost 2,000 MWh of electricity each year, which is equivalent to: 1,800 barrels of crude oil not consumed, 88,000 gallons of gasoline not consumed, and 175 acres of forest absorbing carbon.

Materials: AltaSea will use materials that are designed for recovery and continuous reuse, promoting health and wellness of biological systems or value in technological systems.

Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products are preferred at AltaSea. The Cradle to Cradle program guides continual improvement towards products that are:

  • Made with materials that are safe for humans and the environment
  • Designed so all ingredients can be reused safely by nature or industry
  • Assembled and manufactured with renewable, non-polluting energy
  • Made in ways that protect and enrich water supplies
  • Made in ways that advance social and environmental justice


Master Plan


28 acres


Master Plan Complete


William McDonough + Partners, Master Planners / Design Architect
Rana Creek, Landscape Architects
Page & Turnbull, Historic Preservation
TTG, Seawater System
Holmes Culley, Structural
WSP, Energy