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Salesforce Tower plaza redesign lights up like ‘a carnival,’ planning commissioner says

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The redesign of lights for the Salesforce Tower drew scrutiny from the Planning Commission on Thursday. (Rendering courtesy Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects via SF Planning)

Plans to light up Salesforce Tower not only at the top but at the bottom drew criticism Thursday at the Planning Commission, with one commissioner comparing the designs to a “carnival.”

Redwood trees and public art were once envisioned for the public square below San Francisco’s new tallest building, but an architect has dropped the plans in favor of opening up the space to pedestrians with light fixtures embedded in the ground.

The Planning Commission has already approved different plans for a digital light display to illuminate the top floors of the building, prompting Commissioner Kathrin Moore to criticize the combination of designs Thursday.

“I do not believe that light on the bottom and light on the top are the right answer here,” Moore said. “I believe that they make too much of a carnival.”

Mission Plaza, the forthcoming plaza at Mission and Fremont streets, is expected to become one of the most used public spaces in San Francisco, with as many as 100,000 commuters traveling through the adjacent Transbay Terminal’s Transit Center daily.

The plaza’s design originally included a large sculpture and grove of Sequoia redwoods to complement a gondola that will lift passengers onto a nearby rooftop park above the Transit Center.

“When we started to look at the patterns of pedestrian movement, it was clear that it was a real imperative to make that safe and to make that open,” architect Mark Cavagnero said. “This has the potential to be great gathering space for The City in a new downtown area that is now full of so many people.”

Commissioner Christine Johnson was also critical of the new design because she said it now lacks a spot like a statue for pedestrians to gather. Johnson also pointed out the shortage of trees in San Francisco.

“This design needs help, something in the middle between a full-on redwood grove and a blank plaza,” Johnson said.

But Commissioner Rodney Fong supported the changes because he said the redwood trees might interrupt a pedestrian’s view of the Salesforce Tower, which he called an “engineering masterpiece.”

“This is a great move, a good move,” Fong said, while also adding that the “lighting schemes at both the tippy top of the tower as well as the ground” should be in sync.

The Planning Commission will not have a chance to vote on the changes.

However, Planning Director John Rahaim said he was involved in the design changes and would bring the commission’s suggestions to the negotiating table.

“We did feel that the redwood trees were not necessarily the most appropriate use here,” Rahaim said. “Most importantly because the number of people coming through this location.”

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