Light-filled transit hub aims to be both civilized and humane

People walking through an airy concourse.
Light columns bring daylight into the core of the SalesForce Transit Center in San Fancisco, creating a welcoming urban space.
Photo courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects has unveiled the 111,483-m2 (1.2 million-sf) Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco, which includes a rooftop park and tall, structurally expressive skylights bringing sunshine deep into the building. Stretching four blocks along Mission Street, the long-awaited Transit Center is a new paradigm for urban design in the United States.

Pelli Clarke Pelli’s architectural design illustrates how a dense, urban, transit-based development can provide a sustainable and livable city. In the future, the Transit Center will link to 11 transit systems, connecting the city to the region and the state.

In 2007, Pelli Clarke Pelli won the project contract with a powerful and innovative design. Eleven years after inception, the firm’s vision is brought to life.

“When we first addressed the design of the Salesforce Transit Center we saw that the building had to be both a gateway to San Francisco and a good supportive neighbor to the buildings adjacent to it. We were committed to the idea that this large-scale structure could be both humane and civilized,” explains senior design principal Fred Clarke, FAIA, co-founder of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.

“From its spacious light-filled Grand Hall to the five-acre Salesforce Park, the building embraces and extends the public realm, welcoming everyone to this new urban center. Its exterior wall and art program symbolizes the innovation and creativity of the Bay Area.”

Salesforce Transit Center draws together local, regional, and national transit networks into a soaring, light-filled building. The light column is the centerpiece of the Grand Hall which is both supporting the building and bringing daylight into its core, creating a welcoming urban space. Reaching from the park, down through the bus deck and Grand Hall to the train platforms two stories below grade for anticipated Caltrain and high-speed rail, this dramatic structure provides light and views to all areas of the Transit Center.

White, veiled pedestrian bridge seen over city street.
A gently undulating wall is both a veil and an enclosure for the SalesForce Transit Center, creating a light cloud-like structure visible from many vantage points in the city.
Photo courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Outside, visible from afar and floating above the street, is a gently undulating wall, inspired by the “Penrose Tiling” invented by famed mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose. The wall is both a veil and an enclosure creating a light cloud-like structure visible from many vantage points in the city. At street level, shops and cafes will draw visitors and energize the neighborhood.

At the heart of the Salesforce Transit Center is the 2-ha (5.4-acre) public rooftop park known as Salesforce Park. The lushly landscaped park features gathering spaces, places for quiet repose, and a sprawling lawn with a 800-person-capacity natural amphitheater. Also woven into the landscape is a restaurant and a children’s playground.  Multiple entry points, including bridges that connect to surrounding and future buildings, welcome visitors.  The dense flora offers a wide variety of Bay Area ecologies, from redwood trees to a wetland marsh.

Rooftop park filters, reuses water

The rooftop park is symbolic of Pelli Clarke Pelli and Salesforce Transit Center’s commitment to environmental quality and sustainability. With more than 600 trees and 16,000 plants, the ecosystem will capture 11 t (12 tons) of carbon annually.

The Transit Center will also reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions significantly. The annual energy consumption is projected to be 50 percent lower than the 2008 California Code of Regulations, Title 24 energy efficiency standards. Its associated carbon emissions will be reduced by approximately 40 percent.

The Transit Center’s roof, by virtue of having the park, retains and reuses storm water that would otherwise flow into sewers. The building’s water reuse system is among the first of its kind in San Francisco. It is also the first project in San Francisco with a rooftop wetland filtration system. This will save 52.6 million L (13.9 million gal) of water and 15,422 t (17,000 tons) of carbon dioxide each year due to water conservation and reuse.

The project is on track to receive a Gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) 2009 rating system.

Art meets architecture

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the public agency charged with implementing the Transit Center project, commissioned four major artworks that have been integrated with the center’s design. Working in collaboration, Pelli Clarke Pelli and the artists have blurred the lines between art and architecture, making both more accessible to the general public. The stunning visual art elements include:

  • Secret Garden by Julie Chang—Spanning nearly 1858 m2 (20,000 sf), the Grand Hall terrazzo floor draws visitors and commuters into the colorful, light-filled space. Design elements include California poppies, laurel, and jewel-toned hummingbirds drawn from local ecologies.
  • White Light by Jenny Holzer—Scrolling LED text wraps around the elliptical glass enclosure illuminating the Grand Hall, presenting a range of texts composed in or about the Bay Area and the West Coast.
  • Parallel Light Fields by James Carpenter—An overhead field of prismatic light fins interacts with translucent pavers and a series of illuminated benches set into a ground plane of concrete pavers. This luminous environment creates a unique spatial and perceptual experience for pedestrians in Shaw Alley.
  • Bus Fountain by Ned Kahn—A series of water jets triggered by sensors responding to the movement of the buses on the level below the park. The fountain makes the arrival and departure of the buses visible and tangible through their choreographed effect on the water.

The Salesforce Transit Center project broke ground in 2010.

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