Nine months ago engineers found cracks in two structural beams holding up the relatively new Salesforce Transit Center, a $2.2 billion regional bus and perhaps future rail terminal in downtown San Francisco. A $6 million investigation of all the structural components found the center is safe. While metro buses are still being re-routed, the 5.5-acre rooftop park designed by PWP Landscape Architecture will open again July 1.
According to an article by San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King in Planning magazine, the new Salesforce Transit Center, which replaces an outdated regional bus terminal, is the culmination of the broader 21-block Transit Center district plan, a redevelopment effort for a previously commercial and light industrial zone south of Market Street and the Financial District. The plan killed two birds with one stone: it both created a new, dense mixed-use neighborhood that can accommodate 6.5 million square feet of new office space and 4,400 new apartments, including affordable ones; and generated the land sales and developer fees needed to pay for the multi-billion-dollar terminal.
The development has resulted in a number of new skyscrapers, including the 1,070-foot-tall Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco and one that Salesforce paid some $100 million over 20 years to put its name on; 181 Fremont, which, at 55 stories, is the tallest residential building on the west coast; and One Rincon Hill, two 50-story-plus residential towers. In addition to a 190-unit, 8-story affordable housing complex at Folsom and Beale streets, a new 392-unit tower by architect Jeanne Gang will reserve approximately half of the units for sale at “120 percent of regional income level, which means a couple making $114,000 would be eligible,” King wrote.
The transit center, which links up with the Salesforce Tower, is managed by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority and designed by a multi-disciplinary team including Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, PWP Landscape Architecture, Atelier 10, BuroHappold engineers, and artist Ned Kahn. The center was pre-configured to handle a subterranean high-speed rail station, but progress on that front is stalled indefinitely as California governor Gavin Newsom and then the Trump administration pulled funding. There are plans underway to build a $6 billion tunnel to connect the transit center to the Caltrain regional train system, but there are also concerns about the new station’s projected capacity.
Transit and cost woes aside, the park on its roof is a marvel of engineering and adds a major new amenity to the area. In an interview, Adam Greenspan, ASLA, a partner at PWP Landscape Architecture, said the design team was determined that the terminal “not be like Port Authority” in New York City, a grim space people want to get through as soon as possible. The park made ample room for rooftop skylights and opaque glass surfaces that can be stood on, which bring natural light streaming down through to lower-level bus platforms, shops, and restaurants.
Greenspan said the 5.5-acre park is about one block wide and about 3-4 blocks long, a space equal in size to Union Square, Yerba Buena, and South Park, the other nearby green spaces, combined.
Amid green roofs, there are meandering paths, play areas, cafes and restaurants, hilly lawns, plazas and an amphitheater for free community exercise and art classes, and intimate chill-out nooks.
Green infrastructure systems capture stormwater and recycle greywater from the building in rooftop wetland gardens.
An art piece by Kahn includes linear fountains that jet in response to the flow of buses below.
Like the High Line in NYC, the Salesforce Transit Center features unusual mixes of plants to draw you in and keep your interest. Here, they are grouped into botanical exhibitions such as the fog garden, the Australian garden, and the Chilean garden, which features the strange and charming Monkey Puzzle tree, a spiky evergreen and “living fossil” native to Argentina and Chile.
PWP also ensured multiple forms of access — there are stairways, elevators, and an accessible gondola that take visitors from the street to the park and back.
Like PWP’s new Jewel Changi terminal in Singapore, the Salesforce Transit Center Park shows the way to the future, successfully making the case for integrating high-quality green space into future large-scale transit projects, particularly those in dense cities.