As we reported when we first revealed the design for the proposed 800-foot tower to rise at 550 Howard Street on Transbay Parcel F:

While recently refined by Pelli Clark Pelli, and San Francisco’s Planning Department is on the record as appreciating the solidity of the proposed tower design, according to Planning’s preliminary feedback to the project team: “As one of the four largest towers in the city, however, the Department recommends that the [tower’s] massing be more gently and iconically-shaped.”

And in the eyes of Planning, while the tower’s asymmetry and steps “might work as a formal strategy if repeated; as they only occur once within the most visible height of the tower, they seem episodic and less architecturally intentional.”

And as we noted yesterday, following the project team’s submission of its formal application to approve the development, which include a slightly refined design: “the project team…appears to have rejected the bulk of the Planning Department’s preliminary feedback.”

But alas, according to a spokesperson for the development, the design team is currently working “hand-in-hand with SF Planning on refinements to the design that will factor in their comments.” And if the refinements continue to be received as positively as they have been to date, the 550 Howard Street team “will be resubmitting a revised application with the modified designs by the summer.”

We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Notcom

    “(steps) might work as a formal strategy if repeated; as they only occur once within the most visible height of the tower, they seem episodic and less architecturally intentional”

    Well DUH! Any fool can see that…and several did.

    I’m not sure it’s more appalling to think that the Review Board has no architectural training, or that they do, and this kind of cryptology is the result.

  2. Posted by Louis

    The Transbay tower is competent and dull. This is competent and duller.

    On another question, anyone know the leasing status of the 50% of Salesforce tower they will not occupy?

    • Posted by Matt M

      Per SFBT, Accenture is nearing a major lease. They join Bain and Vy Capital.

    • Posted by Tony

      Wow, you sound like quite the expert. Maybe you too should be on the review board…

  3. Posted by Jay78

    “Department recommends that the [tower’s] massing be more gently and iconically-shaped” WTH does this even mean? I like it as-is :/

    • Posted by cleverpunhere

      They just have to make it more iconically shaped. You know, like an icon. I don’t see where the confusion comes from.

  4. Posted by 101

    They probably read the reviews from the armchair crtitics on this site. Whatever they come up with, no one will be happy with the design.

  5. Posted by Orland

    It sounds as though Planning wants more setbacks in the vertical climb of the tower. Perhaps on all elevations.

    My greatest criticism of the latest rendition is that the 2 setbacks (east and west elevations) are too close together at only 2 stories apart.

    • Posted by David S

      That is how I read it. At least you have a concrete criticism that could be directly addressed. Planning’s sounds like something from Delphi.

      • Posted by SFRealist

        Cryptic statements make it all the more necessary to hire an expeditor to help you understand.

        Of course, that expeditor just happened to formerly work at Planning. Weird coincidence.

  6. Posted by citicritter

    If this design keeps heading in anywhere near this direction, what a missed opportunity for one of the last tall tall tower sites in this city! They really should’ve had a design competition for this site, or at least a more visionary/adventurous architect selection process…

  7. Posted by brew2day

    With all the construction going on and this is to be one of the tallest buildings in the City, it could be a bit more “iconic”. The architect could make it taller, narrower, taper it, put a hole in it, stick a spire on it. What ever it is, it would look a lot better than the Chicago Trump Tower they have replicated now.

    • Posted by cleverpunhere

      When it comes to design, more is not always better.

  8. Posted by Dave

    This is good news. The Salesforce tower is bland and boring. Truly a missed opportunity. As currently designed the Parcel F building is just as unremarkable – in that sense its an unfortunate “twin” to the SF tower. The rendering looking up Howard posted above – this is the first time I’ve seen the building shown from that angle – brings home how boring/mundane the current design is.

    This will be the 4th tallest tower in SF and as such, design-wise, it needs to be something special. Hopefully Pelli Clark will come back with a worthy design.

  9. Posted by invented

    “Department recommends that the [tower’s] massing be more gently and iconically-shaped.”

    The Department then, is filled with [fools]. What this location does not need are more attention-grabbing look-at-me building. They will all cancel each other out.

    This endless Disney cutesy approach to every single thing is wearying and results in a precious over curated city.

    The building as proposed is sophisticated, restrained and is exactly what is needed in this location.

    • Posted by BTinSF

      I tend to agree. I have no idea what Planning is asking for, but the current design has a moderne look to it that I like and that no other tower in the city has.

  10. Posted by Futurist

    The Planning Departments role is NOT to design, but to assure that projects adhere to the Planning Code.

  11. Posted by jamesjr

    The more cooks, the blander the food.

  12. Posted by Milo

    The current proposal couldn’t be more bland. Looking forward to the revision.

  13. Posted by pablito

    Is SF DBI going to review the foundations this time? “As one of the four largest towers in the city, the department recommends less tapioca pudding and more concrete.”

  14. Posted by Rob Silver

    Hope the glass Curtin wall is switch out for a stone/masonry exterior. The skyline is saturated with glass in all different colors and shades. Why are no beautiful masonry towers proposed? NYC has several under construction and they still look modern and up to date but lend a classic look which this (SF) skyline is in desperate need of.

    • Posted by Autodick

      I heartily agree. We need Robert A. M. Stern!

  15. Posted by Snark17

    This is good criticism. An 800 ft building with a couple of random chops in it looks dumb. Same with the awkward variability in vertical vs. horizontal stripes, trying to “break up the mass.”

  16. Posted by more housing please

    On the one hand I want things to be built as soon as possible. On the other, it does feel like a missed opportunity. Why can’t we get bold, modern skyscrapers like the Shanghai Tower?

    • Posted by Matt

      LOVE Shanghai Tower. I totally agree that it’s such a shame that while amazing buildings are being built everywhere, we’re just getting these glass boxes. I feel like the biggest missed opportunity here is that Parcel F is an odd shaped parcel that could lend itself to something really interesting.

      I wish we could get something like a Shanghai Tower, MahaNakhon, or even The Shard. Something with some visual intrigue. IMO smacking some vertical pillars on the exterior isn’t groundbreaking design.

      • Posted by more housing please

        Just imagine a building like the Shard in SF. Oceanwide might be interesting but could be tacky.

    • Posted by Notcom

      Perhaps the fact that SF isn’t one of the largest cities in the world, or the economic capital of one of the largest countries in the world – both population wise and economically – has something to do with it.

      • Posted by more housing please

        Thinking too small there. We’re the center of the technology industry. Unless the ongoing poor urban planning chokes growth, SF will be a major global city in 25 years.

        It’s a wonder that the city and the bay area has grown despite the reactionary mindset of this area.

        • Posted by ijustworkhere

          You must not work in tech to think that SF is the center of it. That’s like saying that Disney Land is the center of the Entertainment industry.

          Santa Clara is the center of the technology industry, and the south bay, more generally, is where the big boys live. San Francisco is where some of the younger workers move to enjoy the night life before they move out, settle down and have kids. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some tech companies here, we have Uber and Salesforce, both with market caps around $50-60 Billion, which would put them towards the bottom of the Fortune 500 if Uber qualified. But the south bay has Apple, Google, Intel, Cisco, Oracle, HP, Facebook, Netflix, Applied Materials, Ebay, Symantec, Sanmina, NetApp, SanDisk, all in the Fortune 500, plus about four times the concentration of developers and two orders of magnitude more capital than in San Francisco.

          It’s part of this provincial attitude that says San Francisco, whose biggest industry is alcohol and dining, is the world’s tech center.

          The poor urban planning reflects this provincial attitude — basically thinking that you’ve already arrived and so need to focus on conserving what you have. We want our artisanal tea shops and charming Edwardians. For that reason I don’t see San Francisco as ever making the leap from a beautiful yet insular city to a “major global city”. Neither would most people want this, as it would cramp their bridge views. So let’s not pretend and say that we’ve already arrived and are anything more than a tech satellite to Santa Clara.

          • Posted by more housing please

            This is exactly the factional, provincial attitude that is the bay area’s downfall. I was referring to the bay area as the center of the technology industry. And yes SF will reap much of the rewards as its premier urban center. But who cares about SF vs Peninsula vs South Bay? Stop thinking like this is a competition between these areas. So silly.

            And funny, I worked at what people would say is one of the best large tech companies today. It’s odd that you include slow companies like Cisco, Oracle, HP and Ebay in your “big boys” list. Many would consider these companies to be past their prime.

        • Posted by Jake

          Neither SF nor Santa Clara is “the center of the technology industry.” There isn’t a single or primary “center of the technology industry.” That’s not how technology presents in modern human culture. Rather antiquated and/or “provincial” to think a physical locale is “the center of the technology industry.”

          The Bay Area has the largest concentration of one segment of the computer technology industry (software and systems design and integration), but it certainly can’t match the computer manufacturing centers of Asia and has a minor presence in a very long list of many non-computer-centric technologies. The Bay Area has been very adept at concentrating segments of the computer industry of value derived from labor. Makes us per capita wealthier than other “centers” and pushed out the enviro-nastiness that in the past created so many super fund sites in SF and SV. Has also pushed out much of the defense-aerospace tech industry that was vital to the growth of SV pre-personal computer.

          SF isn’t even the largest computer technology center in the Bay Area, that’s a wee bit south of this building, about 30-40 miles or so down 101. SF is more like the showcase jewel in a crown, somewhat like Hong Kong island wrt Kowloon (Oakland), Shenzhen(SV), Guangzhou (LA), etc.

          San Francisco will never be “a major global city” as measured by population (“growth”), but it can be by wealth and control of economic resources. Already is by some accounts.

          • Posted by more housing please

            “a minor presence in a very long list of many non-computer-centric technologies”

            You’re taking the word technology too broadly. I’m referring to the business of writing software that enables disruptive products. The bay area is the undisputed king here. Look at the concentration of talent, capital and opportunities. There is no close second, anywhere. But our poor, reactionary urban planning is dragging down one of most important innovation centers of America and the world.

            Other tech centers are emerging. China is a big one.

            SF isn’t a major global city yet. New York. London. Tokyo. Paris. Beijing. Hong Kong. We’re far off still. Even if we’re measuring by wealth and economic resources.

          • Posted by Jake

            Ah, all “technology” is local to whatever kind of work I/we do for filthy lucre. I see. Well then, a quick glance at our local bible of technopoly (catalog of the Stanford School of Engineering) would tell you it is broader than just softheaded wares.
            Arguably, the Silicon Valley is still as much or as central a place of hardware design as software. But for you programmeringers, then in what timezone were C and C++ and Objective-C invented? python and ruby weren’t invented in the USA, neither was WWW. Where was John McCarthy when he invented Lisp? The operating system of the iPhone is iOS, which is derived ultimately from Unix. Where was Unix invented? And where exactly is the geographical “center” of Linux sw development? Where was the Mosaic browser written? Where was Thefacebook launched? What university did Uber raid for self-reckless automobile technology?
            By your MBAish measure of “the business of writing software that enables disruptive products”, do you use a WIMP interface? What was and remains the super profitable (disruptive) productline of WIMPiness? Windows 3.0 ad infinitum, and sadly not the Lisa. Who is the undisputed king of the business of writing software that enables the disruption of retail? Amazon.
            China is not a “tech center.” China (PRC) is a country that contains many many tech centers, such as those in Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing,….
            Having the largest concentration of softechies doesn’t make us the “center” or the “king”. SW monitization isn’t a gravitational system or an aristocracy. There are many thriving sw technopoles, centerless and kingfree. Afterall, the ease of distributing software and placelessness of software creation has been a major factor in the disruption of technology concentration worldwide.

          • Posted by more housing please

            > Ah, all “technology” is local to whatever kind of work I/we do for filthy lucre. I see.

            A bit melodramatic? This is after all a real estate site for the bay area. Yes, I think I can use the phrase “technology industry” and not be misinterpreted. You listed a whole bunch of things invented elsewhere. But many of the businesses that used them effectively? Started here or moved here.

            The bay area’s concentration of talent, capital and opportunities is not matched anywhere right now. Everyone is trying to recreate the magic with their own Silicon Whatever. Turns out that locality still matters. Let me know when the numbers actually back up your claims.

            My apologies that I didn’t list out every potential tech center in China.

            > “programmeringers” and “softechies”

            Weird names. Do you have a mental complex against software engineers?

          • Posted by Jake

            sure, you apparently do think your misuse of “technology industry” to mean “…writing software…” isn’t a misrepresentation, but of course you are wrong, very wrong. May as well insist that the color blue (450–495 nm) is the visible spectrum.

            But then perhaps to you the biomedical, pharma, semiconductor, and many other advanced technologies with a strong presence in the Bay Area and in Bay Area real estate are somehow not in your “technology industry” accounting. Let alone the many other high-tech industries which are certainly not “centered” in the Bay Area kingdom of those “writing software.”

            As to “things invented elsewhere” and used here, the diffusion of software technology goes both ways or all ways and always has. And the vast vast majority of all software ain’t written in the Bay Area. And the vast vast majority of all the programmers, and programmer income, and real estate devoted to programmers ain’t in the Bay Area.

            Of course “locality still matters.” Sheesh, I’ve argued that repeatedly in comments on SockeSite, including recently to explain why SF and SV have higher pay rates and higher RE prices than other parts of the Bay Area, and why we should expect that to continue and gradually increase with time. But that does not qualify the Bay Area for your very exaggerated claims of worldwide kingly centerhood.

            And yes, many have tried to emulate Silicon Valley success. That has been going on for decades. And yes, none of them has grown a center larger in computerish revenue or profit than the Bay Area or SV, but the net result has diminished Silicon Valley’s relative portion of computerish technology. We get bigger, but they collectively have gotten relatively much bigger. Let me know when you have numbers to show otherwise.

            I have nothing against software engineers. The minority of programmers that produce well-engineered software are a precious resource. Some of my bestest friends, some of my co-workers, etc. I’m hiring more if you know any. And it is ok if they don’t know the difference between “writing software” and “technology” as we already have a CTO who would never make that mistake.

          • Posted by Anon123

            The Tech industry by whatever name you call it, has lifted the economy (and housing cost) in the Bay Area disproportionate to any other area in the US. Obviously tech is growing elsewhere in the world as it is a dominant part of the world economy. We shouldn’t expect an economic boom in the ag. industry or ship building, right?
            The continued high cost in the Bay Area is pretty well correlated to the success of tech industry and SV/The Bay Area is a center of Technology as much as New York or London are centers of finance and LA is a center of the entertainment industry.

          • Posted by Jake

            of course tech industry has lifted the Bay Area economy and the Bay Area is “a center of technology”, in fact one of the leading centers of technology. No one has disputed any of that. FTR, there are areas where the local economy is more dependent proportionally on “tech industry” than the Bay Area, eg remote areas that depend on high-tech extractive technologies. Not sure why it should matter to you to be more or less proportionately lifted by “whatever you call it” than somewhere else.
            Why this need to exaggerate beyond the superlative that the Bay Area does have the greatest concentration of computerish technologists and a disproportion of the profit from computerish technologies which is what causes/sustains/pays for the high prices of avocado toast and Uber misbehavior. Huge success story without all these vague/mistaken exaggerations wrt to “any other…” Win win, except for the downsides.
            FWIW, the shipbuilding industry has had two booms in the past dozen years or so, and has had about one per decade since containerization. Not in the bay area, though. That ship(building industry) sailed long ago.

          • Posted by Sabbie

            Much of what previously has made the Bay Area so desirable to tech companies seeking the best talent has been devoured by that very industry. When combined with our inept corrupt government it is just plain aggravating to live here now, and not really worth the cost unless you are in the top 1% nationwide. And even some techies must be getting turned off by the dense atmosphere of smugness permeating the area. Tech offices can be set up anywhere, the only limiting factor is attracting the workers. I predict this will become harder for SF and easier for other competing cities moving forward. Not to mention, the swelling tide of H1B flunkies will go wherever you tell them to.

          • Posted by Dave

            @Sabbie – Agree completely. Its something I’ve been saying for a while. The Bay Area will remain the tech center but have, over time, a relatively smaller proportion of the tech workforce than it does now. The quality of life has declined in recent years. The surge in housing costs here? Not every tech worker wins the IPO lottery or is a trust child. Many, many can’t afford to purchase a home here. The guys down the street from me are typical I think. Sharing a 4 bedroom home among 5 non-related adults (and to my chagrin the cars that go with that) and wanting to transfer to other areas. Two of the dudes got transfers in the past year and the two who replaced them are pretty much in the same boat – including not wanting to pay 3500 in rent a month – hence they share a crowded home.

            This change makes for investment opportunities in the coming decade for those who see it happening and want to take advantage of it.

  17. Posted by Stop Driving

    I just got back from Seattle. Their skyline is much more impressive than ours. There are over 40 cranes operating in downtown Seattle right now and they’re even building a 100 story skyscraper.

    • Posted by Dave

      There are cranes all over Seattle – not just downtown. The area is booming big time with more than 5K housing units being built each year for at least the next decade. 4/C is going to be 97 stories I believe – not 100. LA will still have the tallest West Coast tower..

    • Posted by Notcom

      Emporis – the voice of authority in tall tales – shows 14 buildings (over 400′) currently going up there. SF has fewer but taller buildings.

      • Posted by Jake

        Amazon added 1.7 million sqft of office space last year in Seattle and plans to add several million more over the next few years. … king of writing software that disrupts retail…..and interclouds.

        • Posted by Out of Town

          i’m sure there is more to Seattle than Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing.

        • Posted by Jake

          yeah, that’s the rumor (namelink). Meanwhile, Amazon currently “takes up approximately 20 percent of Seattle’s office inventory” and is “on track to eventually occupy … one-fourth of the [Seattle] market’s inventory of premium office space.” “Seattle could have the nation’s highest concentration of office space occupied by a single business. Based on that footprint, Amazon could grow to nearly 50,000 employees, easily topping the University of Washington as the city’s largest employer.” (geekwire and seattle times)

          Amazon’s current office boom is having a bigger impact on the Seattle office market than the previous Microsoft boom because retail is a messy/laborious business.

          I remember the pre-dotcom days in SF, when rag merchants (Levis, GAP, Esprit,…) had noticeable impact on our quiet little office market, and the proposed GAP HQ needed a haircut and funded a park because it was gonna be soooo tall, One South Park was a garment sweatshop, and weekend day shoppers were bused in to shop the $5 and $10 discount clothing stores of south beach.

          FWIW, CBRE estimates that the SF unicorn heard of ~40 companies occupy about 5% of the office space in our foggy seaside tourist trap, but then they aren’t counting the nearly continuous occupancy of the Blue Bottle at 2 South Park.

          • Posted by Out of Town

            I had no idea that Amazon was so concentrated/such a large share of Seattle’s business. Great information.

          • Posted by Anon94123

            “CBRE estimates that the SF unicorn heard of ~40 companies occupy about 5% of the office space in our foggy seaside tourist trap, but then they aren’t counting the nearly continuous occupancy of the Blue Bottle at 2 South Park.” Now THAT is funny! I also want to thank Jake for the links regarding what is going on up in Seattle, and this may explain why our firm has lost 3 under 35 year old architects to Seattle offices in the last year or so.

          • Posted by ijustworkhere

            That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Amazon has razor thin margins, a toxic work culture, and is in a highly competitive industry. It’s a great company and market leader, but there is zero room for error. What happens when Bezos retires and mortals take over?

            Compare, for example, to Oracle, which is widely hated, sues its own customers, hasn’t done much to improve its products in the last decade, and yet is still swimming in positive cash-flow due its products being absolutely indispensable for a large set of customers with deep pockets. Same for Adobe or Microsoft. Amazon does not have a moat like that. It’s not a company that can screw up for 5 years and still be a dominant player.

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