How will local groups help build new San Jose landmark project?
A concept image of the Breeze of Innovation. Photo courtesy of Urban Confluence of Silicon Valley.

San Jose’s new landmark is the brainchild of architects halfway across the world — but local leaders say San Jose artists and designers will still be part of it.

The newly-selected landmark, The Breeze of Innovation, was designed by Fernando Jerez, the director of SMAR Architecture Studio, which has offices in Australia and Spain. It recently trumped nearly 1,000 submissions in an international design competition.

Nonprofit Urban Confluence Silicon Valley raised $2.2 million to fund the project, as a gift to San Jose. While the design is from abroad, some of the money will be put into local contractors’ hands — and perhaps artists’ — as the 14.5 acres space is developed. Officials said contractors will be chosen based on merit, but will “almost certainly” be from the Bay Area or San Jose.

Steve Borkenhagen, the organization’s executive director, said the goal is to enhance the park around the landmark and make the area an attractive world-class destination.

“We’ll be looking at all kinds of items that will go in the park: restrooms, benches, lighting —  there could be an art garden,” Borkenhagen said. “We will certainly be talking to local people and if, for example, we ended up with some kind of a sculpture garden. we would probably have somebody local curate that.”

The total budget for the project will be upward of $100 million. The money will come from future fundraising, he said.

The Breeze of Innovation landmark will rise in Arena Green in downtown San Jose in about four years. The landmark features a bright tower with 500 hundred flexible rods standing 200-feet-high. According to the proposal, the rods will represent the “hundreds of different companies and individuals working together in Silicon Valley.”

As the rods sway in the wind, they will generate electricity, allowing them to glow at night. Multiple levels of walkway will make up the vertical space inside the structure, offering 360-degree views at the top. There might also be an exhibition space and a café, according to officials.

The Breeze of Innovation, San Jose’s future landmark, will consist of hundreds of rods that generate electricity and light up at night. Photo courtesy of Urban Confluence of Silicon Valley.

Former San Jose Arts Commission Chair Peter Allen said local artists should get a say in projects meant to liven the city — even if they are privately-funded.

“I’m always going to advocate for local artists and local investment,” said Allen. “Especially if pieces are going to be that iconic and that visible and such a key part of branding our city going forward.”

Borkenhagen said locals were involved in the selection process. About half of the 14-member jury that chose the winning design is from San Jose. The jury also included one local artist, Erin Salazar. The Breeze of Innovation was selected from a worldwide pool of 963 submissions. No names or location data were attached to the submissions.

Based on IP address data, Borkenhagen said 65 submissions were from somewhere in Santa Clara County — including San Jose — and 44 were from San Jose.

“The logic was that we wanted the submittals with the most merit to win and it was not a criterion that they be from any particular place,” Borkenhagen said. “The jury made their decision without knowing who the submitters were, where they were from, how old they were, or what experience they had.”

Borkenhagen emphasized the city will not pay a dime for the project. Urban Confluence will also pay for future upkeep.

“This is private money by people like you and me who believe in placemaking and building beautiful parks,” Borkenhagen said. “So it’s a gift. The area will remain a park, and we are working diligently to be respectful of the environment, fish, birds, trees. We have no interest in doing anything that disrespects the natural world.”

As plans get underway for building the landmark, San Jose City Hall is bracing for potential legal or environmental challenges.

“It is a large project, so we can anticipate there may be some hurdles along the way, and we will address these as they arise,” said Charlotte Graham, a spokesperson for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department.

She said city officials will discuss environmental review and ensure the project complies with city policies.

The project will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission on April 8. It is scheduled to come before the City Council on May 4.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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