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Renzo Piano Designs the Burbs

San Ramon gets the starchitecture treatment. 


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When you’re the highest-earning city in the United States, but you don’t have a downtown, what do you do? You hire one of the most famous architects in the world to build you one—sparing no expense on the bells and whistles. That’s the plan in San Ramon, a place in which at least half the households earn $100,000 or more annually. In 2017, the Contra Costa County burg will unveil a posh new “historic downtown,” a $1 billion development mixing retail, residential, and civic infrastructure in an elegant design by—wait for it—Renzo Piano.

Hiring the architect behind such dazzling structures as New York’s new Whitney Museum, the New York Times building, and the California Academy of Sciences was a coup, to put it mildly. “To have someone like Renzo Piano decide to build a project like this in a quiet suburb like San Ramon is amazing,” says Phil Wong, the town’s planning and community development director.

In 2014, the city commissioned Piano to create one of his public masterpieces on a 26-acre lot. Piano’s plan is packed with restaurants, shops, arts venues, and civic attractions, including six pavilions connected to a piazza and trees aplenty. In addition to 350,000 square feet of retail space and 800,000 square feet of office space, City Center will accommodate 500 apartments and a five-star hotel.

Construction for City Center was approved last November. Developer Alexander Mehran Jr. hopes that when it opens, the starchitect’s swing-for-the-fences heart of the city will keep residents in town. “We hope that locals like the project so much,” Mehran says, “that they won’t go to meet their friends and family in San Francisco, Marin, or the South Bay, but will convince them to visit San Ramon.”


Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco 

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