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Cranespotting: Castles in the Sky

Ben Christopher | October 16, 2013 | Story Real Estate

1. Transbay Transit Center
S.F.'s new heartbeat
Ah, the Grand Central Terminal of the West—also known as the main reason that the lower Financial District will be an impenetrable mess of construction for the next half decade. When it is finally finished, it will be an elongated and undulating hub funneling 11 transportation systems through its aluminum-wrapped five decks, topped off (literally) with a 5.4-acre public park. Given all the fuss, we had better hope that California’s whole high-speed-rail thing works out. Mixed use/2017/100 ft.

2. Transbay Tower
101 First St.
At 61 stories high—plus a forked miter on top for those last 158 feet—this will be the tallest building in San Francisco (topping TransAmerica by 217 feet) and maybe even west of the Mississippi (if it opens before L.A.’s 1,100-foot Wilshire Grand, also planned for completion in 2017). Clearly, this pearly, curvaceous, phallic megalith will dominate the skyline. What we don’t yet know: Will the economic boom last long enough to fill the thing with tenants? Mixed use/2017/1,070 ft.

3. 181 Fremont
An eye-catching icon
Of all the Transbay super-developments, this one is likely to cut the most unusual figure on the skyline. The design features an external support system that zigzags up the sides and cuts the facade’s continuous glass into a series of interlocking triangles. Throw in a spire that juts off the peaked roof, windows that notch slightly outward like fish scales, and a glassed-in bridge that feeds onto the Transit Center’s rooftop park, and this is not just another high-rise. In fact, it may battle Transbay Tower as the enduring symbol of this boom. Mixed use/2015/800 ft.

4. Transbay Block 9
First and Folsom Sts.
A true design breakout
For all the city’s cosmopolitan aspirations, it is also enamored with its own Victorian preciousness and statutorily allergic to incongruity—in other words, conservative in its architecture. Consider this approved 570-apartment (114 of them low-income) building a revolutionary act. With striated glass panels unevenly patched around 10-story-tall grooves in the facade, the Craig Hartman–designed tower will stand out even among its flashy neighbors. Mixed use/2016/400 ft.

5. Tower Two, One Rincon Hill
401 Harrison St.
A tower get its mate
When One Rincon Hill popped up five years ago, detractors threw out words like “atrocity,” “ungracious,” and “Sharper Image Ionic Breeze.” Get ready for round two. The question now is whether the high-end residential project’s more diminutive northern tower will finally assuage critics—or further prove their point. Residential/Fall 2014/520 ft.

6. 45 Lansing
The big topper
Sleek, reflective, and geared toward the luxury end of the market, 45 Lansing may distinguish itself from its Rincon Hill neighbors with its boxier build and the swooping glass fixture that sits atop it like an iridescent pompadour. Still, it will feel right at home here as another remarkably unremarkable skyscraper. Residential/2015/440 ft.

7. Transbay Blocks 6 and 7
Folsom St. From Fremont to Beale Sts.
Sky parks galore
For those having trouble keeping the various Transbay high-rises straight, the 32-story Block 6 tower is the eco one. (Block 7 is still in development.) With solar-heated, passively cooled apartments and shared balcony “sky parks” stacked all the way to the green rooftop, this design works hard in its quest for LEED Gold certification. Mixed use/2015/300 ft.

8. 340 Fremont
Only seven years after approval
After a design rethink late last year, following years of delays and a transfer to a new developer as part of a $16 billion corporate merger, 340 Fremont finally looks set to break ground on Rincon Hill. Towering, glassy, and catering to those in the top tax brackets (see: in-house pet grooming studio), it should fit in perfectly with its neighbors. Residential/2015/440 ft.

9. Lumina
201 Folsom St.
It's Infinity all over again
Here come two more oblong highrise condos, right across the street from the originals on Rincon Hill. Drawing inspiration from its Infinity towers design (and, presumably, from its own success), this time the New York firm Tishman Speyer has teamed up with a Chinese developer to plunk a new set of towers adjacent to the Transbay Transit Center. Mixed use/2015/400 ft.

10. 350 Mission
Expanding the 'force
To San Francisco’s new elite, this office building could stand for everything the city should aim to be: aesthetically modern (with floor-to-ceiling windows and an elevated ground floor), environmentally responsible (the project is LEED Platinum–bound, with a storm-water recovery system, under-floor heating and cooling, and other green bells and whistles), and anchored by tech (Salesforce has already preleased the entire building). Commericial/2015/520 ft.

Castles in the Sky: Downtown Titans
Nabe Changers: Neighborhood Defining Apartment Buildings
Open for Business: Office Buildings, Malls, and Hotels
Cultural Beacons: The Arts Will Endure
Urban Levittowns: Planned Communities, Hold the Vanilla
Service by Design
: Modern Overhauls for Civic Stalwarts

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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