Architecture | Art and Design | News | San Francisco

San Francisco: Three Firms Vie for West Coast's Tallest Skyscraper

A competition is underway in San Francisco to design a skyscraper that will be part of the Transbay Terminal development, a transportation hub that will provide access to a proposed high-speed rail line linking the city to Los Angeles.

Inhabit notes: "The three proposed skyscraper designs, by SOM, Pelli Clarke Pelli and Richard Roger’s Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, are all over 1200 ft (nearly 1/3 higher than the current skyscraper champion in San Francisco, the 853 ft Transamerica Pyramid). All feature large wind turbines on the roof to provide renewable energy for the building."

One proposal, from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners design.

A second proposal from Pelli Clarke Pelli.


A third from Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill.

Having been in San Francisco during the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, I don't envy anyone on the top floors of these towers when the "big one" finally decides to hit.

Tallest Skyscraper in San Francisco Will Be Green? [inhabit]

(via boingboing)

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  1. I am with you.

    I just cannot understand why someone would want to build - let alone occupy - a super tall building in such a earthquake prone location.

    I'll stay on the ground (and let the building fall on me there!)

    Posted by: Ken | Aug 9, 2007 1:17:36 PM

  2. That first one is fugly!

    Posted by: shane | Aug 9, 2007 1:21:13 PM

  3. Yeah, the top one looks like it should definitely have the Eye of Sauron sitting on top of it.

    (joke courtesy of BoingBoing)

    Posted by: adamblast | Aug 9, 2007 1:31:35 PM

  4. It will be a sad day in my adopted home when one of these ugly and derivative designs or any equal in height is approved. I'm not against tall buildings per se. I luv NYC's skyline, though the World Trade Towers were, to me, tall sore thumbs before they sadly became deathtraps.

    With that, I don't want to make too much of the fact that my boss at the time and I wondered just how vulnerable our office building was so close as it was to the wonderful and wonderful target that is the Transamerica Pyramid. Nothing like erecting a target that's 300 feet easier to hit. And, yes, is "earthquake science" at such a secure point that such a high building, whether or not its supports are drilled far beneath what is possibly Bay landfill, could survive "the Big One"?

    Terrorism and tremblers aside, a building of such surpassing height would resemble a giant spear jutting out of the previously graceful San Francisco skyline it has killed. More will follow until the now breathtaking, jawdropping view of The City from the Bay will resemble little more than a pile of giant hood ornaments bragging and braying the arrogance of men with too much power and money and too little common sense. Proving, yet again, that you don't have to be gay to be a size queen.

    Posted by: Leland | Aug 9, 2007 1:38:03 PM

  5. I thought it was decided years ago that building skyscrapers was not economically feasible nowadays. And yet they are still getting put up all over the world. And with all the natural disasters happening why would anyone want to work or live in one?

    Posted by: what? | Aug 9, 2007 1:38:07 PM

  6. That's a nightmare just waiting to happen.

    Posted by: FizziekruntNT | Aug 9, 2007 1:38:55 PM

  7. Well the first one looks the most like the building in the Towering Inferno.

    Posted by: kujhawker | Aug 9, 2007 1:44:33 PM

  8. I normally like Pelli's work, but his building looks like an overgrown lozenge.

    Posted by: SeattleDan | Aug 9, 2007 1:57:06 PM

  9. Sigh...SF has been architecturally conservative for a while now and is only now joining the 21st century with the DeYoung and the new Federal Building-love them or hate them at least they are bold and forward looking. I am not in love with any of these buildings, but they seem like sketches more than completed proposals, so I dont understand all the knickers in a twist.

    Skyscrapers are also a good response to environmental issues-they concentrate people instead of sprawling them out and advances are making them environmentally sustainable.

    And as for being in an earthquake zone...the tall buildings survived Loma Prieta. California has incredibly stringent seismic regulations. I would be more worried about the older buildings that are stucco (can crumble) or wood frame (can burn down) And NYC is in an earthquake zone and the buildings there are not really up to an earthquake happening.

    And as for terrorism...if they dont blow up a building, they will blow up a plane, or bomb you on the bus or on the subway or shoot you down in the street. If you are that paranoid about terrorism, dont ever leave your room. Next people will be complaining about how buildings cant withstand nukes. The best way to combat terrorism is politically, not by encasing buildings in lead.

    Posted by: Charles | Aug 9, 2007 1:58:40 PM

  10. I believe these buildings will still be shorter than Library Tower in Los Angeles. And they are fugly.

    Posted by: Kurt | Aug 9, 2007 1:59:11 PM

  11. Boo hoo hoo! Change is scary!

    Posted by: davitydave | Aug 9, 2007 2:15:51 PM

  12. No stopping these Size Queens!

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Aug 9, 2007 2:25:05 PM

  13. They will be taller than the Library Tower in Los Angeles, making which ever one gets built the largest building west of the Mississippi. I agree with Leland, anyone of them will forever ruin the beautiful city that is San Francisco

    Posted by: Pete | Aug 9, 2007 2:30:03 PM

  14. Whom can we sleep with to stop it?
    The whole idea is dangerous, plus I don't know how they are going to punch a rail line to LA through that corridor. Why can't they use the existing train tracks four blocks south

    Posted by: babs | Aug 9, 2007 2:43:13 PM

  15. That's funny, I would think the rampant homelessness, crime, unnafordability, and lame government would be the cause of a ruined SF, not what the skyline looks like.

    Posted by: Charles | Aug 9, 2007 2:45:43 PM

  16. San Francisco architecture has never really impressed me to begin with. Now Chicago, there's a city thats an architectural wonderland. An amazing skyline with some amazing buildings and neighborhoods.

    Posted by: Shaun | Aug 9, 2007 2:50:06 PM

  17. This building, if built, would rise from a site that sits at the edge of NEHRP categories D and E, which, as a whirl around the net will find, are basically loose marshy soil and sand fill, respectively.

    A link to the USGS site describing the area:

    The same soil sits under most of Mission Bay (the area near the newer baseball stadium), including where UCSF plans to build a biotech center in a public-private parternship. The Bay Guardian had stories about this back in 2002 when I was living out there. How lovely that area will be after the Transbay Tower fills into a liquified soup of biotech emissions.

    I think I'll buy on the other side of town.

    Posted by: bboy | Aug 9, 2007 2:52:23 PM

  18. The first one looks like scaffolding. The second, like a giant phallus. The third is interesting.

    Posted by: sam | Aug 9, 2007 3:24:50 PM

  19. "Theres got to be a morning after..."

    Posted by: gavin elster | Aug 9, 2007 3:27:04 PM

  20. Regardless of any real safety issues, this building would have enormous pr problems.

    SF is KNOWN for earthquakes and tall buildings are scarier now than ever.

    So besides the disproportionate size and aesthetic issues, it, like the trade towers, would take FOREVER to fully occupy.

    My advice: Just say no.

    Posted by: rich | Aug 9, 2007 3:27:22 PM

  21. I think most people would admit that the WTC was spectacular at sunset. Despite newer buildings being taller, they were far larger overall. Tall building make sense largely because the marginal cost per floor is lower as the building gets higher.

    Posted by: anon ( | Aug 9, 2007 3:35:30 PM

  22. I lived in SF for almost 10 years and was constantly amazed at the fact that a city with such progressive politics was loathe to embrace progressive architecture. The thinking seemed to be: If it doesn't have bay windows and isn't Victorian in design it doesn't belong in our city. Such narrow thinking has led to a city that sometimes feels like one is walking around colonial Williamsburg (shudder).

    Just before I left S.F., Prada proposed renovation of a building that was one block off of Union Square (the main shopping drag) and appeared to have been built in the sixties or seventies. The building was an absolute EYESORE. There was nothing interesting about it. It was unwelcoming at the street level and even uglier above. It sat like a big, imposing monolith that covered a large part of the block. Prada retained Rem Koolhaas to design the renovations. Koohaas is one of the most interesting architects in the world and a former winner of the Pritzker Prize (architecture's version of the Oscar or, perhaps more appropriately, the Pulitzer Prize). The design he proposed for renovation was playful, hip, fresh and interesting. It had a courtyard underneath the first floor that would have turned the block into a welcoming area for pedestrians instead of just another building to walk past. San Francisco rejected it saying that it did not meet the standards for renovations of buildings in the Union Square Historic District...never mind that the existing building would not have met those standards either and was completely ugly. Ultimately I think it was San Francisco's loss. I am sure the Bay Windows Brigade would disagree with me.

    In terms of the earthquake safety, it is my understanding that the towers are often safer in a tremor than most of the houses in S.F. I am not an architect nor am I an engineer, but I have heard knowledgeable people say that in earthquake country skyscrapers are built onto caissons that have been sunk into solid bedrock that exists below unstable soil (and there is always solid bedrock below). I've also heard that some buildings are built on rollers that literally roll with the motion of the earth thereby diminishing the force of the quake. And finally, I would bet that a building built in 2007 (or later) would be far safer in an earthquake than a Victorian built in 1910.

    I vote for Building #2...#1 is ludicriously ugly and #3 looks just like any other tall building.

    Posted by: peterparker | Aug 9, 2007 9:30:10 PM

  23. They're all hideous, and while I don't object to reasonably-sized high rises, I can't for the life of me understand why a city as small as San Francisco needs a building as tall as this one. There's still plenty of space downtown for 20 - 30 floor towers. There's absolutely no reason to build a terror magnet like this thing.

    Posted by: sunspot | Aug 10, 2007 1:58:28 AM

  24. The terrorists have won, apparently. Looks like a handful of guys with boxcutters have done more to shape the public's architectural opinion than an entire generation of architects and builders.

    Posted by: John T | Aug 10, 2007 9:43:30 AM

  25. I just watched "Towering Inferno" on cable. It's set in SF, and the third picture looks amazingly like the tower in the 70s movie. I wonder if the new one will have orange shag carpet?

    Posted by: Jim | Aug 10, 2007 1:14:18 PM

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