Think the words “Green Skyscraper” are an oxymoron? Whatever your feeling on energy-guzzling giant steel monoliths…. “green” super-towers seem to becoming quite the rage, from the myriad of green monstrosities going up in Dubai and Bahrain, to New York’s LEED Platinum Bank of America Building, to the new sustainably-minded World Trade Center designs – developers around the globe seem to be trying to outdo one another no longer just with height – but also with the “greenness” of their super tall skyscrapers.
Now the city of San Francisco is jumping on the green skyscraper train with brand new plans to build the west coast’s tallest skyscraper ever as part of the new Transbay Terminal development.
Skidmore Owings Merrill’s proposed new tower for San Francisco
This new transit station proposed for San Francisco is proposed to be equivalent to Grand Central Station in New York City — a major transportation hub which will connect a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles (any day now…..we’re waiting, Arnie…)
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. Wind turbines certainly make sense on buildings this tall, as the amount of wind in San Francisco at 1200 feet is likely to be significant.
Despite the nice gesture of the wind turbines, we’re a little skeptical about the environmental ramifications for a tower this tall in San Francisco. First of all, the amount of construction materials, labor, and especially steel that is needed to make something like this structurally sound is going to be enormous. Then there is the issue of all of the light that is going to be blocked by this tower, and impact the shadows are going to have on buildings and parks around the tower. And finally, the possibility for massive earthquake damage in a building this high in San Francisco scares the *&#! out of us. Of course we realize that any designs that actually get built will be seismically engineered up the wazoo to deal with this very issue, but since we’ve been “waiting for the big one” for the past 20 years, the idea of setting foot in any one of these designs makes us a bit nervous.
In terms of the designs themselves, we weren’t initially too bowled over by the images getting publicized in SFGate and the local newspapers. However, upon closer inspection and some digging around SOM’s website, we turned up a bunch of stunning renderings which have us warming up to this new San Francisco skyscraper idea.
In our opinion the best of the bunch is the SOM design, which twists from base to top in an elegant torque, surrounded by a flower-like lattice structure. The shape of the SOM design almost looks like an inverse Transamerica Pyramid, and we feel this aesthetic is in keeping with local skyscraper flavor. Since all three designs incorporate wind turbines, we’ve got to hand it to all the teams of architects for making an effort to be environmentally thoughtful. The green transit hub proposal is certainly a step in the right direction, and we are proud of San Francisco for taking bold steps and trying to make new developments more sustainable. We hope the SOM design is picked as the winner for the transit hub, as this is one design we would be proud to see bringing San Francisco to a new level of cosmopolitanism, and helping to establish San Francisco as the world class city it is.