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Pelli Crowns SF Skyline
Transbay complex will be tallest on West Coast

Pelli Clarke Pelli bested rivals Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners for the opportunity to remake the San Francisco skyline. The Transbay Transit Center, which includes an extension of the Caltrain line, and will serve as the future home of the California high speed rail line, will be topped by a new park flanked by an 80-story tower. Surpassing the iconic Transamerica pyramid not far away, Transbay will be the tallest tower on the West Coast.

Though the three shortlisted teams are known as leading tower designers, financing may have played a larger role than aesthetics in the selection of the winner. Paired with Hines as the developer, the Pelli team offered $200 million more than SOM and Rogers, who were paired with Rockefeller Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner, respectively. “Absolutely everyone was caught by surprise,” said John King, urban design writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think even the Hines people were surprised that they were so far ahead.” King contends, however, that the jury, which recommended the Pelli/Hines proposal unanimously, was swayed by the design as much as by the financing, especially the elevated park. The jury report noted, “The proposal extends the program of the transportation center beyond a transportation hub to add value through a wonderful urban ‘city park.’ As a catalyst for development in itself, the park has the potential to link to new adjacent buildings as redevelopment proceeds, further defining the urban form.” Rogers was ranked second and SOM third.

The 1200-foot tower has a rectilinear base that tapers into a slightly conical form at the peak. Like the Freedom Tower, wind turbines will top it; they are one of many green strategies employed in the project. The Peter Walker-designed park will cap the glass and steel terminal, creating a tension between the apparent lightness of the building and the weight of the park, which includes grass swales and trees.

Unlike the other two proposals, which called for mixed-use towers including a hotel, offices, and condominiums, the Pelli/Hines proposal calls for an office-only tower. “There is some concern that an office tower will be too quiet after hours,” said King.

Alan Brake