The Man Behind the New Transbay Tower

Life is looking up for Cesar Pelli. As one of the world’s top architects, he designs buildings that go up – way up. The Argentina native likes to say he merely designs what clients ask him to. But so many of his buildings kiss the sky, you’d swear he was working his way gradually up the firmament.

 “For me that’s not important,” Pelli said when asked about the prestige of building really tall buildings. “The important thing is the building suits the city what it is.”

The man who designed the famous Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia, and the Wells Fargo Center in Minneapolis, is now designing San Francisco’s new Transbay Tower. When completed in 2017, it will be the tallest building on the West Coast.

 “It’s not just a tower,” Pelli said Wednesday at the groundbreaking ceremony, “it’s a marker against the sky of Transbay center which is a gateway to San Francisco.”

The building will stand 1,070 feet, becoming the seventh-tallest building in the U.S. It will be the candle in the cake of the new Transbay Terminal, a transportation hub for eleven transit systems, on the site of San Francisco’s former Transbay Terminal at First and Mission Streets.

The complex will include six million feet of office space, 4,500 units of housing and a 100 thousand square feet of new retail space.

So with all this new building under construction in the area, will Pelli draw his design inspiration from the environment springing up around his creation?

 “More from the spirit of San Francisco than the physical qualities,” he countered. “I have always seen it as a very happy, gentle, delightful place and that’s what this tower will be.”

On Wednesday, developer Boston Properties handed the Transbay Joint Powers Authority one of those giant checks, for the towering sum of nearly $192 million dollars for the land. With a turn of the ceremonial shovels, the project was officially on.

 “It will also mark on the skyline, that the central place in the city is our transit station,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR, “I think making a really beautiful statement about our values and our priorities.”

The project also makes a statement about the Bay Area’s economic rebound which has currently filled San Francisco with 47 construction cranes, all erecting new buildings and etching their imprint on the city’s skyline.

Once completed, the new Transbay tower look down on San Francisco’s current tallest building, the Transamerica Pyramid (853 feet), and it’s second tallest, the Bank of America building (779 feet).

It will be designed with sustainability in mind; special energy efficient glass, ventilation systems that let in fresh air and cut down energy bills.  

The tower’s design was actually reduced from 1200 feet, following complaints it would cast shadows over city parks. The new project will include four parks of its own.

Both the terminal and the tower are expected to open sometime in 2017. Giving folks something to look forward to... and up.

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