Pelli Clarke Pelli's Transbay Terminal and Tower ('City Park')

It’s true, the Hines/Pelli Clarke Pelli proposal for “City Park” has won (save an uprising by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority Board, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, or the Planning Commission) the design competition for San Francisco’s new Transbay Terminal and Tower.

The winning Transbay terminal proposal by developer Hines and architect Pelli Clarke Pelli offered $350 million for the tower property, more than twice what the other two teams were willing to pay, according to the nine-person jury appointed by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

The astounding offer blew away the team ranked second in the competition, Richard Rogers Partnership and Forest City Enterprises, which offered $145 million for the tower land. The third-place team, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Rockefeller Group Development Corp., made a purchase price offer of $118 million.

As previously noted, the proposed “City Park” combines a ‘complex’ 5.4 acre park elevated above the transit center with a ‘simple and calm’ 1,200-foot glass wrapped tower housing 1.6 million square feet of commercial office space (and no residential).

Jury picks Hines for Transbay tower [Business Times]
Jury names favorite for Transbay terminal, tower [SFGate]
Transbay Terminal (And Tower) Design Competition: The Teams [SocketSite]
San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center + Tower: More Proposal Porn [SocketSite]
San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal Design Proposals: Highlights [SocketSite]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Snark17

    I’m disappointed that SOM didn’t win because I think their tower looks fantastic and the winning one seems kind of boring. But I guess the economic factor is hard to ignore. I wonder if SOM would have won if they had been willing to put up more money.

  2. Posted by Usually Named

    So San Francisco — pick the most boring, conservative choice. Where am I, Walnut Creek?

  3. Posted by Observer

    Rincon hill gets a twin with horizontal bands :-)
    Funny how even in this town it all comes down to money.

  4. Posted by anonarch

    By far the worst design. This is the problem when too tall towers are not built for the common good. Is there some game being played where San Francisco always gets the worst designs from international firms? Is the natural setting so spectacular here that they feel they can drop any dumb design into our urban context?

  5. Posted by sfdude

    Given that the economic impetus behind the tower was to raise funds for the terminal, it makes sense that the financial aspect of the proposal would figure significantly.
    I’d have preferred the SOM Tower too, but the result is not surprising. Maybe SOM should’ve offered a stronger package…

  6. Posted by sanfranvalues

    Something so simple as the stupid double stacked bus terminals in SOM is probably the reason they didn’t win. But hey, this isn’t bad, and it looking like a fat dildo will bring the hilarious- every- thousanth- time- I- hear- it SF gay jokes into the 21st century! It’s kind of interesting though that the Transbay team wanted a “signature” tower, and it seems like all the other proposals for supertalls around this area are more intriguing than this one.

  7. Posted by SFSal

    No arguments with regard to the economic impetus for the tower and not too surprised with the outcome, but then why did they even bother to call it a “design competition”? It was an auction pure and simple.

  8. Posted by tipster

    …and the next time there is a “design competition” in SF, everyone will remember how the high bid/cheapest design won.
    Next time: a race to the bottom in terms of design.

  9. Posted by shark

    “So where’s your office?” “On the 68th floor of the Butt Plug next to the AC Transit bus station.”
    Pelli can pull this off – they are a talented firm (inspite of their work at 1 Market Plaza). Personally, I would have reversed the rankings.
    And although I applaud SF looking at going higher and changing the skyline and moving into the 1990’s, I don’t get the rational of the whole project. All this to support a $900 million bus stop for the B&T crowd with maybe a little SAMTRANS action added to the mix? CalTrain extension to this location? High Speed Rail hub? Never, ever going to happen in our lifetime.
    SF, build high and smart and proud. Let AC Transit build a $10 million transfer hub to BART at West Oakland, get the buses off the bridge. It is the TJPAB’s job to make the Transbay Terminal happen, and from my point of view, it seems they are doing a pretty fine job fulfilling their mission. But who has ever questioned the mission?

  10. Posted by a_tortoise

    What a travesty! The Pelli design is boring and uninspired, just what San Francisco doesn’t need — 1000 feet of mindless repetition with a replica of the Crocker Galleria at its base.
    The SOM tower and terminal is hands down the best of the bunch…

  11. Posted by sanfranvalues

    1,200-foot glass wrapped tower housing 1.6 million square feet of commercial office space (and no residential).
    enough reason for a revolt by the TJPA here, at least from Chris Daly.

  12. Posted by Jamie

    Personally, I’m thrilled because I could give a darn what the tower looks like if it doesn’t add something of value to my neighborhood (Rincon Hill). The Pelli design’s City Park and their presentation clearly recognized that Rincon Hill is a residential area under development, and a public park space would help with the informal interactions and events for residents and visitors that are so crucial in forming a social fabric. The money part doesn’t hurt, but I also see the park space as a HUGE compliment to the residents of the area. Isn’t it nice that the building can serve as a transportation hub, office/condo/hotel/retail space, and a community center of sorts? Fabulous!
    Go Pelli!

  13. Posted by sanfranvalues

    Jamie- the building will be 100% office, with retail I assume at the street. There will be no condo/hotel in this one.
    [Editor’s Note: As proposed no residential, “but could be reconfigured to include 22 floors of residential space “if required.”]

  14. Posted by s

    Those of you who think the SOM design is by far the best, please, join me in writing emails. This thing isn’t over until it goes to the full board on Sept. 20th. SOM is by far the most elegant, and cutting edge of the three. This building will become the symbol of San Francisco for the next hundred years, let’s invite audacity and excellence. The SOM proposal was designed by San Franciscans for the City. Take ten minutes to share your opinion with the TJPA.

  15. Posted by ex SF-er

    we can’t always ignore money! This way hopefully SF taxpayers will foot less of the bill.
    no doubt this is the most boring building I’ve ever seen in my life. As soon as I look away from the picture I forget what it looks like.
    I have no doubt that in future postcards of SF they will find a vantage point that can crop out the Pelli tower (and ORH too), and focus on the TransAmerica tower instead :)
    I doubt that people will name this a dildo or a butt plug or anything else for that matter… it doesn’t even have that much detail. It’s simply a tall building. (unlike the penis tower in Seattle which has that distinctive mushroom head)
    that said, there are other very boring tall buildings that are famous just because they are tall (Like Montparnasse in Paris, or even the Hancock building which is a tall black building-many people love that). maybe the Pelli tower will join them?

  16. Posted by anon

    No surprises at all. It was my first choice anyway. Anything would be better than what is in the transbay area now.

  17. Posted by curmudgeon

    I don’t think it’s so so bad as y’all think. No, the tower design is not as exciting as some of the others, but it’s no One Rincon. I DO think Pelli is a very talented architect who will pull it off…his dark Mission Street tower (forget the address) is one of my favorites in the city. And I think going for “simple elegance” has better potential for something that we’ll like for generations…..we all know in our hearts that some of the twisty computer aided designs so hot right now are going to look so last decade tomorrow.
    However..I did like the crocker galleria comment. Rooftop parks have a pretty horrible track record of actually being used. Now this one will be pretty big…but still, when you’re walking around the streets of a city, how often do say “gosh, I want to walk upstairs to the park!”. I think it will be a great visual amenity for nearby office workers…and a lunchtime destination…and a management headache (I hope management of it goes to the office tower and not to Rec and Park…)

  18. Posted by SFhighrise

    How about a hybrid approach? Although not as exciting as the SOM proposal, I think the tower looks nice, as does the transit center and park. The one thing I was really sold on with the SOM proposal was the giant video screen in the entrance way. It would be nice if this could be incorporated into the Pelli design.

  19. Posted by RinconHill_Res

    Sure, the tower design isn’t exactly spectacular, but I’m focusing more on the design of the new Transbay Terminal.
    I think that design wins hands down over the other two entrants. I love concept of the park on top of the terminal.

  20. Posted by Jamie

    What I want to know is how those of you who keep thinking of these buildings as dildos can function with a pen or pencil in hands … grow up. :)
    Go Pelli!!

  21. Posted by Jamie

    If they ban dogs (besides guide dogs) from that rooftop park, parents far and wide will bring their children to play on poop-free grass – that is a VERY rare commodity in this City that has more dogs than children.
    The managers of the park also need to make it relatively easy for entertainers to set up events … give us the bandshell made of car hoods that the NOPA folks apparently hate. Give us free Wi-Fi and seating …. some comfy benches … ban pigeon feeding (shoot the pigeons as far as I’m concerned) … Of the 20,000+ new residents in Rincon Hill, some will stick with Rincon Point Park (it is only so big though), some will make the journey to Ferry or Washington Square Park, others will make the big commitment and go to Dolores or Golden Gate Parks, but some of us just want a backyard space to relax with a book or laptop. The City Park fulfills this niche … and keep the dog poop out!

  22. Posted by Sharecropper

    Disposable razor, or toothbrush handle…..

  23. Posted by Mike

    The design is blah, but the point is clearly size, not sizzle. As for the park, I want to believe it will be an awesome add to the city, but the cynic in me sees a future homeless/pigeon camp.
    On the plus side, a central transport hub will be fantastic for city dwellers and visitors alike.

  24. Posted by Michael

    What ever happened to San Francisco’s progressive roots? I don’t mind the Pelli tower or park but a “unanimous” Jury ruling represents little more than a safe economic choice. It’s no wonder so many great architects love living here but have given up working on any projects to be built in San Francisco itself.

  25. Posted by holmes

    i don’t think the winning design is nearly as boring as these responses are. I like the design, and the part of it that does not comprise the tower is far more innovative than the others, many of which wasted space and were filled with pure flash on the ground level. On the offer note, it does make one wonder where the cars would have lain had they been closer to one another, but i was pro-Pelli before that transpired. So one SF citizen (actually 3, counting my co-workers who also liked the Pelli design best) are happy about it.

  26. Posted by Usually Named

    San Francisco only thinks it’s progressive — it’s about the most conservative and elitist city in the country.

  27. Posted by anonandon

    Wow, that is pretty brave “Usually Named”. I thought I was the only one who had this opinion. The way this city rolls out the same tired faces and families for their opera opening events and other “cultural” happenings is really quiet tired. Don’t they get tired of seeing eachother and reading about eachother. I think the boring skyline of this city reflects how really boring it has become. I was just telling a friend after a weekend staying down in Venice and visiting the galleries and other stuff in that part of L.A. that it was more San Francisco feeling than San Francisco.

  28. Posted by Jamie

    As a metaphor, you can go ahead an upgrade your business’s operating systems to Windows Vista the day it comes out at your own peril. Most folks will stick with the proven stability of Windows XP with good reason.

  29. Posted by flipper 74

    I’m so glad SOM was ranked last among the three. The jury was intelligent enough to see through the smoke and mirrors and cheap tricks that SOM always invokes that they were able to pinpoint the obvious flaws of the proposal. The tower looks great from afar and on top, but is horrible and massive in the bottom. Imagine the San Francisco Center mall rising about 500 feet in the air.. that’s how big the base of their monster proposal is. And their “matchy matchy” transit center proposal doesn’t function well as a transit center.. not to mention the overdone scale of the project (its basically as big as the SF airport – over the top.)
    The pelli scheme..I still don’t believe people will inhabit a 5 acre park that you will need escalators, elevators and wait.. a furnicular and go up 75 feet in the air..its ludicrous. But then again.. how can you say no to a free money? 200 million..

  30. Posted by city resident

    any of this hand-wringing over an all-office tower with no residential is totally wrong-headed. from a land use and environmental perspective, it’s far more productive to fill the tower with office space for several thousand workers than super-high priced pied-a-terres for a couple hundred of the global ultra-wealthy. Housing, square foot per square foot, is a much lower density use than office. Given that any housing at the top of the tower would be VERY high end and very likely to not be primary residences by folks walking to work or taking the bus or train, there’s not much argument supporting insisting on residential uses in the tower. It’s far more easy and important to serve job centers with transit than it is to serve a more limited number of housing units. According to available Census data, 10-20% of the housing units in the downtown are second (or third or tenth) homes (compared to less than 5% citywide). And according to voter registration records, on average there are proportionally many fewer registered voters in this new downtown housing than would generally be expected based on registration rates — meaning that people aren’t living there as their primary homes (or they’re more politically apathetic or non-citizens, both of which are highly unlikely). This is not what we’re building a Transit Tower for. Unless you can make the case that super-luxury housing in the tower can contribute a lot more $$$ than office or hotel to fund the train extension, we should be embracing an office proposal. Additionally the downtown is about to run out of space for office development, the number of development sites left for large office buildings can be counted on little more than one hand — meaning it will sprawl even more around the region in office parks to non-transit served locations.

  31. Posted by flipper 74

    So let me get this straight. You think its okay to saturate 1.7 million sq ft for office space which means basically this entire building will be dead and empty when people go home from work say 6:30 pm? and completely closed during the weekend? There goes just about your only users for this 5.4 acre park.

  32. Posted by anon

    I also could care less if the tower is only office space, but my concern is when it comes to tall towers, we all have to live with them. Can’t we expect a building that will become an iconic part of what people identify as San Francisco to look a little more original? This tower reminds me a lot of One Rincon in that the slick images in no way give a real representation of how bland it will really be, especially on such a huge scale. The fact that it resembles a sex toy does not help the city’s image.

  33. Posted by ExNYer

    “So let me get this straight. You think its okay to saturate 1.7 million sq ft for office space which means basically this entire building will be dead and empty when people go home from work say 6:30 pm?”
    Great point! Lower Manhattan around Wall Street used to become a complete wasteland at night and on the weekends. Thank the apartments/lofts/condos for creating a thriving new neighborhood.
    “Residential growth does not necessarily preclude commercial growth, said Chakrabarti. “The whole point of the residential development is actually to strengthen commercial development,” he said, citing Midtown as a balanced mixed-use neighborhood. Because Midtown has a large residential population, retail thrives on the nights and weekends, which is a boon for commercial businesses that enjoy the variety of services during business hours. “We think that residential development is going to strengthen the commercial core in creating a nicer area for workers,” he said. Fine dining restaurants, for example, that cater to business lunches will have a higher success rate if they can also serve an evening and weekend clientele.”
    http://www.downtownexpress.com/homes_lofts/livingwiththebulls.html

  34. Posted by bob

    and it is going to be just as “dead and empty” with a couple hundred empty pied-a-terres 40 weeks out of the year instead of a few hundred thousand square feet of office space. what we’re talking about is hugely marginal (if that’s an appropriate oxymoron) in terms of “activating the streets and restaurants with people.”
    let’s do some basic math. If a third of the Hines building were “housing,” they would average probably at least 1,500 sf per unit (generous, they probably would be significantly larger). If you took a third of the building, that’s 567,000 sf of housing and about 375 units. Lop off 25% as vacation homes/pied-a-terres (which is very generous, the real number for a building like this is likely to be MUCH higher), so you have about 300 occupied units. At about 1.9 persons per unit (luxury downtown units have statistically far lower persons per unit than the rest of the city at 2.2+ because luxury condo dwellers tend to have fewer kids, roommates, and extended family living with them), that means about 570 people will be living there, though likely fewer. If that same space (567,000 sf) was office, based on current worker densities for office buildings in SF (about 285 sf/worker), that’s about 1,990 workers.
    there’s already many thousands of housing units being built just a couple blocks away in transbay redevelopment, rincon hill, etc.

  35. Posted by curmudgeon

    “there’s already many thousands of housing units being built just a couple blocks away in transbay redevelopment, rincon hill, etc.”
    Precisely. No one is arguing that this neighborhood shouldn’t be a mixed-use neighborhood. The impact of nearby residences is already being felt in a very good way, increasing weekend and evening activity. There is only more to come.
    That doesn’t mean that every building must be mixed-use. And of any building, this one makes the most sense to be office. Particularly if (I would rather say WHEN but I don’t dare) Caltrain and High Speed also make it to the terminal. Can you imagine the business traveler traffic between SF and LA from this building alone?

  36. Posted by anonandon

    The station design on the Pelli scheme is especially awful and makes the tower ALMOST acceptable. Someone earlier mentioned the Hancock building as being boring but popular and I would not agree with this idea. The Hancock is a great building because it uses the actual structure of the building as part of its honest design. No false candy strips, or loopy tree parks, or tollys, instead a very simple urban plaza with a large lower fountain court with places to sit.
    Because the Hancock included housing as part of the tower, it helped to change north Michigan avenue into the showcase street that it is today. The whole developement of Michigan Avenue shops, hotels, condos and restaurants started with the Hancock building.
    My main problem with all of these designs is that nobody tried to just do something simple and elegant. Bigger is not better, and sometimes a building and a terminal do not need to scream for attention.
    The Pelli design is a failure.

  37. Posted by AnonDeveloper

    Having attending the night of presentations it was CLEAR that the Hines/Pelli team clearly met the design intent of the RFP. While SOM’s design is nice, what is the purpose of a 100′ lobby floor. If anybody reading this attended the public presenteations you would have witnessed the Transbay authority slam the SOM design as it related to the tranbay terminal. It not about design. Its about the Total Package. And Yes $$ factor into the equation. All of the designs deserve a standing ovation. Regardless of who designs it….it will not only benefit the city skyline but will create many economic opportunities in the community.

  38. Posted by sanfranvalues

    Bob- your personally fabricated statistics of residential/ office nonsense doesn’t take into account the fact that this area will be completely DEAD after 5pm on weekdays, and equally DEAD on weekends. I want an EXCITING neighborhood at day AND night. I want life. I don’t want to keep being a “suitcase city.” I want LIFE here, dammit !

  39. Posted by sanfranvalues

    I agree with the posters about- San Francisco is the most phony liberal progressive city in the US possibly the world. It shows in our horrible public transit mess of a system, extensive use of freeways, horrible urban planning, conservative architecture, reliance on the past instead of looking toward the future. A city of NIMBYs.

  40. Posted by curmudgeon

    SanFranValues…there’s residintial right next door (the New Millenium building), and more to come. Don’t get all stressed out…..

  41. Posted by s

    Maybe there are some flaws with the SOM proposal, but it’s a work in progress. I think you should take the most innovative and appropriate one (SOM) and use the design process to tweak it. That way you end up with something perfect. The Pelli is boring and horrible. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Blandbay Terminal.

  42. Posted by flipper 74

    The SOM scheme is hardly innovative. The tower is half the tower SOM designed in China (see the Jinling tower in Nanking) If you think its so innovative, we’re actually only getting half the tower they proposed in China. The terminal? It’s assumptions were just plain wrong. It seems the instructions for it were so explicit, but too much ego made SOM think they were smarter and proposed a terminal that MANY transit experts think if a FATAL flaw. The design had so much eyecandy it tricks everyone to think it’s beautiful I’m so happy the jury was intelligent enough to see through all the smoke and mirrors.

  43. Posted by mh

    horrifically boring….but exactly what we should expect.
    will this (or Transbay bus terminal) ever get built?

  44. Posted by bob

    sanfranvalues –
    those statistics are not “personally fabricated.” in fact, they’re easily documentable and come from publicly available government-issued statistics (city, Census, etc.).
    you’re in a total state of denial if you think that a couple hundred mostly empty ultra-luxury pied-a-terres in this one singular building are going to add jack squat to the life of the neighborhood. you ought to be more interested in adding hotel rooms, which actually would be occupied day and night. or are you really so shrill about residential in this one particular building because you’re a real estate agent who is just salivating at the potential huge unearned commissions from being the paper-shuffling middle-man on some mega-priced condo sales, and you get nothing to line your pockets if it’s office space?
    lovingly,
    Bob

  45. Posted by Jerr of San Francisco

    I predict that the “City Park” will be a green desert without humans. Take a walk to the elevated garden by the Golden Gateway Center/Embarcadero Bldgs. and you will see my point.
    Since buildings built almost always look quite different from the architectual promotional drawings there is the chance that the structure might not be so boring as dipicted.

  46. Posted by Anonlurker

    “I agree with the posters about- San Francisco is the most phony liberal progressive city in the US possibly the world. It shows in our horrible public transit mess of a system, extensive use of freeways, horrible urban planning, conservative architecture, reliance on the past instead of looking toward the future. A city of NIMBYs.”
    Not only is this comment hard to argue with, but I think the Transbay Terminal shows the strange mindset of the city. We are building a “WOW” terminal with shops and parks, but we will still have the same sub-standard transit system. If the city is going to sell off land and use the money for transit, how about using it for fixing MUNI instead and just build a real terminal that is easy to use without shops and fountains. When I lived in London I loved the terminals there which were dynamic simple transit terminals that did not pretend to be a shopping mall or luxury hotel. The Transbay project is nothing more than a shallow attempt at trying to be “world class”. Pelli’s work in London (Canary Wharf towers) was bad enough. Now it seems he has followed me here to S.F. to haunt me.

  47. Posted by condoshopper

    this building looks a lot like the International Finance Centre building in hong kong.
    and the other day socketsite showed a proposal that looked like the Bank of China building in hong kong. looks like our cutting edge designs are all imitations.

  48. Posted by SC

    I’m disappointed that SOM didn’t get the nod from the city, despite its lack of finance compared to Pelli’s bid.
    Just check out SOM’s Burj Dubai project (declared as the world’s tallest building at 1,831.5 feet) that’s currently under construction:
    http://news.yahoo.com/photos/sm/events/wl/072207burjdubai/p:5
    Their buildings are unique and well desgined. The city really needs to reconsider the SOM project before they make a final decision next week.

  49. Posted by zed

    Those of you who say the design was boring? Did any of you notice the the park was designed above the street level?

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