These 24,600-square-foot rooftop gardens, completed in 1969, are constructed atop the Oakland Museum of California, a reinforced concrete-and-glass building, situated partially below grade, designed by architects Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates. Dan Kiley was commissioned to lay out the terraced planes, along with local landscape architect Geraldine Knight Scott, who selected the plantings for the scheme.
The garden consists of three levels that descend from north to south, offering views of Lake Merritt and the surrounding city from terraces and balconies that culminate in a below-grade sunken courtyard. The roofline of the interior galleries is staggered so that the outdoor terrace for one gallery sits atop the roof of another gallery. Terraces are connected by wide flights of concrete steps. Tiered concrete planters densely planted with small pear, olive, and pine trees, shrubs, and vines that cascade over terrace walls, define the spaces and provide a platform for outdoor sculpture. In the sunken courtyard a rectangular swath of lawn is bisected by a diagonal pathway and edged by cedar of Lebanon, live oak, and eucalyptus trees. To the west of the lawn, a long rectangular pool is planted with water lilies and stocked with fish. Renovations to the museum and gardens were completed in 2010. In 2019 the landscape architecture firm Hood Design Studio created plans for a new public entrance visible from Lake Merritt, and for new planting schemes on the terraces that reflect distinct regional ecologies.