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Force of Nature

Soon, Salesforce Tower will look down on everything but the fog itself. Will San Franciscans look up to it?


Men at work on Salesforce Tower, soon to top the Transamerica Pyramid as San Francisco’s tallest building.

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The real daredevil work happens out of view: Ironworkers hanging off the side of the building bolt together steel columns and supports. “They have good balance,” says Boston Properties’ Spencer Barney.

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Under-construction floors are swathed in nets. It’s not the structure that needs protecting—the nets are there to catch objects lest they fall and hit pedestrians or cars.

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It takes about eight hours to pour one story’s worth of concrete for the building’s core. It takes another 36 days for the concrete to dry completely.

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Read more from the Real Estate Issue here.

High above Mission Street
is a mini-city that never sleeps. At any given hour, six days a week, about 650 workers are pushing Salesforce Tower higher into the fog. “At night, it gets misty,” says a construction elevator operator, his voice barely audible above the roar of the lift. When San Francisco visited in early September, the top of the tower had risen to 764 feet, or nearly 52 stories, putting it within heckling distance of the 853-foot Transamerica Pyramid. By mid-October, the pyramid would be dwarfed for good, and in early 2017 the tower will reach its full height of 1,070 feet. (The first tenant will move in next fall.) Developers Boston Properties and Hines are calling it the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Los Angeles is also trying to claim that title for the under-construction Wilshire Grand Center—a shorter building with an uninhabited spire that will push it to 1,100 feet. 

On this late-summer afternoon, Salesforce Tower was still playing catch-up to the buildings around it. Even in its half-dressed state, it’s obvious that tomorrow’s biggest skyscraper is a lot less, well, funky than the iconoclastic pyramid that came before. The rounded obelisk fashioned by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects will be beefier, glassier, and more conventional. “Even though this is a lot taller, I don’t think it will ever be as memorable as the pyramid,” says San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King. That’s not to dis Salesforce, he adds: “There’s only one city that has a pyramid. There’s nothing else like it.”

Then again, given the brute task of raising a 170,000-ton, 61-story skyscraper, “quirky” needn’t be high on the checklist. Unlike the tilting, sinking Millennium Tower across the street, Salesforce Tower has a concrete-slab foundation that is anchored via large concrete piles that descend as deep as 320 feet underground into bedrock. “Yeah, it’s not going to tip over like that one,” Boston Properties assistant construction manager Spencer Barney says, gesturing in the Millennium’s direction.

At the end of the building’s three-and-a-half- year, $1 billion ascent, who’s to say whether San Franciscans will accept the tower as their new banner? Its dominance could well turn out to be purely numeric. Buildings are made by investors; icons are made by people.


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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