Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: salem ma and washington dc
First, more renderings:
Tower top: Pelli design:
Second, the opinion of the San Francisco Chronicle's architecture columnist, I think John King is sort of like a mix of Steve Bailey and Robert Campbell.
He likes the Rogers design:
Shaping the city's future
High stakes: New Transbay Terminal high-rise has potential to redefine San Francisco -- all proposals have worthy elements, but one stands out
John King, Chronicle Urban Design Writer
Sunday, August 12, 2007
The competition to build a new transit center and skyscraper on Mission Street isn't a beauty contest. It's a gamble in city-making that could redefine San Francisco in the sky and on the ground.
How fitting, then, that the tower best suited to replace the Transamerica Pyramid as the Bay Area's tallest building is every bit as startling as that 35-year-old icon once was -- and, at first glance to many eyes, every bit as harsh.
The design comes from the firm of England's Lord Richard Rogers, and it hums with surprising life. Scaffold-like braces of brightly colored steel reach 1,225 feet into the air, the space inside the braces stuffed with glassy stacks of offices and condominiums and a hotel. Brightly colored elevator cabs race up and down the outer walls; next door, a three-block-long bus platform is perched atop a lean open-air frame with ceilings cloaked in tent-like billows of thin bamboo.
The tower is too tall, as are its rivals in the public competition being held to raise money for a new mass transit hub. It's also designed with a wind turbine on top that needs to go.
But more than the other two proposals, Rogers' approach makes sense. It understands what the neighborhood needs -- and how a city and region evolve.
The proposal is one of three unveiled last week by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the agency created in 2001 to create a new transit station on the site of the long-obsolete Transbay Terminal at First and Mission streets.
The three design-development teams in the running were asked for detailed schemes showing a tower proposal that the team would build as well as a transit center design that the authority can then build itself. Financial bids that were attached to the projects have not been released.
The competition rules call for a terminal that can welcome AC Transit commuter buses from the East Bay, along with other bus lines and, in the future, train service from the Peninsula. They also specify that any tower should be "an iconic presence." The goal is for both buildings to open in 2014, which in development years isn't nearly as far off as it sounds.
Purely in sculptural terms, the most alluring tower comes from Skidmore Owings Merrill, which paired with Rockefeller Group Development Corp. Thick bands of structural steel fan upward from a broad base, followed by lattice-like waves that taper and fold until they form a translucent cone that scrapes the sky.
Imagine a chic new box for the Eiffel Tower -- one that happens to stretch 1,375 feet, more than 500 feet beyond the Transamerica Pyramid.
The problem lies far below: on the ground, where the steelwork cloaks the entire southern block of Mission between First and Fremont streets.
In a different location such girth wouldn't matter. But this corner is fast filling up with towers -- including a 600-foot high-rise to the north and a slightly taller one going up to the east. There needs to be breathing room for passers-by.
By contrast, the problem with the transit portion of the Skidmore-Rockefeller proposal is too much breathing room.
Competition rules spell out that the terminal should stretch from Beale Street almost to Second Street, a distance of 1,350 feet and a length that allows for a generous platform for AC Transit buses arriving on special ramps from the Bay Bridge.
Instead, Skidmore's design takes the eastern half of the AC Transit platform and places it atop the platform west of First Street. The idea was to free up the two eastern blocks for other uses, including a glass-clad hall as spacious as the centerpiece of Grand Central Terminal in New York.
While the space looks good on paper, AC Transit officials say the alignment wouldn't work. And the space created doesn't seem worth the trouble. The "grand hall" is a block east of bus service. Most people probably would stroll down First Street directly into the station, rather than take a ceremonial detour.
The most straightforward proposal is from a team led by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and the developer Hines.
The team carefully stuck to the rules, such as providing a plaza on Fremont Street next to a relatively simple 82-story tower that resembles an obelisk and ends with a hollow cone that rounds off the tower's slender silhouette.
The terminal design wraps everything inside a basket-like weave of glass and steel that swings out over alleyways. But on top there's a surprise -- a 5.4-acre park.
If this proposal is the one that triumphs, its field of green dreams will be why. There's a romantic appeal to such a sweeping landscape above the din of traffic, one that's wider than Market Street. The design by Peter Walker and Partners of Berkeley includes a variety of terrains, and Hines pledges to maintain the park and fund a variety of events through the year.
The tower, though, isn't much to get excited about. Cesar Pelli and his firm are masters at exquisitely tailored high-rises, but this one seems to come off the rack. It's elegant without being inspired.
That said, Pelli's tower has rivaled the Skidmore design in an unscientific Internet poll conducted of Chronicle readers at SFGate.com.
The Rogers tower places third -- and no wonder. Not only is the brash, machine-like look jarring to many eyes, the tower is topped by a single 125-foot-high wind turbine held in place by tweezer-like red columns.
The idea was to create a skyline accent as memorable as Transamerica's peak: "an icon on top of an icon," according to the entry package. Instead, it looks like the world's largest eggbeater.
So why take a second look, and what makes Rogers' approach the most intriguing?
For starters, it's the smallest tower of the three. Between the pavement and the turbine are 1.4 million square feet of space, compared to 1.76 million in Skidmore's tower and 1.6 million in Pelli's. It also has floors of roughly 13,000 square feet from the 35th floor on up. The Skidmore design doesn't slim to that extent until the 71st floor. Pelli doesn't get there until the very peak.
And numbers don't convey the tower's intriguing quirks. The base is narrow but then, five stories in the air, office floors designed for large tenants slice out past the tight frame. When the floors shift to small tenants, the floors pull in; for the hotel they get narrower still. The residential floors slide back and forth in size depending on the units inside, jostling against the scaffold-like braces with their rich orange color.
The most important selling point, though, is the team's terminal design.
Rather than pile platforms on top of each other or add a landscaped roof, the Rogers team and their local collaborator SMWM strip away everything they can -- going so far as to remove the second concourse.
The ground level would be sprinkled with glassy pods for shops, and escalators, and branch-like columns holding up the platforms. Everything else is open; there's not even a roof over the bus lanes, though the waiting areas would be enclosed with glass.
This approach is the one that could finally undo the Transbay Terminal's barrier-like presence across First and Fremont streets. There'd be a 38-foot clearance above the sidewalk, and the platform would be less than 10 feet thick.
This terminal -- colorful, open, with a warm bamboo ceiling above shops and restaurants -- could be the beckoning center of this emerging district. It could even make people want to take the bus.
Yes, the rooftop park in the Pelli-Hines team's proposal is attractive. But it would also be 70 feet above the ground. No matter how enticing it might be, it wouldn't be an integral part of the neighborhood.
Whatever team is selected next month by the Transbay board, these proposals are only the starting point for serious negotiations.
One thing that should be on the table is pulling down the heights -- not drastically, but with an eye to a less gargantuan feel. The reason for such heights is to drive up the cost of the land, but the transit terminal's budget shouldn't determine San Francisco's urban form.
That's another point in the Rogers team's favor: His approach is more about ideas than icons. He's trying to craft a tower that reflects the life within, and a transit hub that is a neighborhood hub as well.
"This isn't meant to be a completed design," he told the Transbay authority board at the unveiling. "It's open-ended, though it has a direction."
The gaunt gleaming look of the tower wouldn't change substantially. But the choice of orange for the frame could change -- it's a too-obvious nod to the Golden Gate Bridge.
This direction involves risks. There's an element of surprise, and the look's not familiar.
But the payoff could be profound: a fresh and inventive definition of what San Francisco can be. It's a risk worth taking.
Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners design for Forest City Enterprises and MacFarlane Partners
-- The transit station is lean and lithe, a platform atop artful steel columns. And the open-air space beneath has the potential to be inviting, not oppressive.
-- With elevators racing up the sides, a taut metal frame, and different floor sizes and shapes for each set of uses inside, a tower that looks like a stark machine in drawings could have a kinetic appeal in real life.
What falls flat
-- The wind turbine on top -- held in place by 125-foot-high columns that resemble giant pincers -- may be environmentally worthy, but it looks oversized and out of place.
-- Along First Street, there's a cramped feel to the plaza at the base of the tower.
-- If the different sections of the tower begin to look the same -- if the quirkiness is smoothed out -- the result will be grim.
Pelli Clarke Pelli design for Hines
-- Imagine a 5.4-acre park stretching above three city blocks -- and being there on a tranquil fall day.
-- The simple obelisk-like shape of the 1,200-foot tower would be enriched by a detailed metal skin.
-- This architect-developer team is responsible for nearby 560 Mission St. -- one of San Francisco's best recent towers.
What falls flat
-- The low-key tower works so hard to be dignified and demure that it has a generic feel.
-- No matter how wonderfully landscaped the park atop the terminal might be, it is 70 feet above street level. That's a long way to go to admire the scenery.
-- The futuristic look of the terminal building would create a visual barrier across First and Fremont streets.
Skidmore Owings & Merrill design for Rockefeller Group Developer Corporation
-- The 1,375-foot tower with flowing steel lines is like a high-tech Eiffel Tower. It has postcard-ready pizzazz.
-- The full-block entry hall to the terminal has an airy grandeur.
-- The core of the tower -- pierced by a passage 70 feet wide and 103 feet tall, walls cloaked in digital art from SFMOMA -- would be unique and dynamic.
What falls flat
-- The tower may be slender on the top but it's overwhelming on the ground, too much so for an area already crowded with towers.
-- Officials at AC Transit say the team's plan to stack all East Bay bus service on one block would be cumbersome.
-- That grand entry hall might prove ghostly -- it's only one of several pathways to the bus platforms.
A man gazing on the stars is at the mercy of the puddles in the road