Three years ago, a group of San Jose philanthropists aspiring to build a world-class landmark downtown and donate it to the city began with the idea of erecting a light tower at Plaza de Cesar Chavez — a 21st century update on San Jose’s original icon, a 237-foot structure adorned with newfangled electric light bulbs, built in 1881.
A lot has changed since 2017.
Urban Confluence Silicon Valley will bring the public up to speed on the landmark project in upcoming webinars and discuss what will happen over the next six months — before and after a winner is chosen.
The original tower idea was subordinated in favor of an international ideas competition. The project relocated to Arena Green, at the southern tip of Guadalupe River Park where the river meets Los Gatos Creek, and the San Jose Light Tower Corporation rebranded as Urban Confluence Silicon Valley.
Those changes happened in the earliest part of the planning phase. Since then, UCSV sought input from the community and empaneled an expert jury to judge the competition, which received nearly 1,000 entries from around the globe. In September, the organization announced the three finalists in a glitzy, live fundraising event.
Next year, Urban Confluence will reconvene the jury and a winner will be announced.
Each finalist is currently completing a set of feasibility studies to refine designs from concepts into something that can be built. The hour-long webinars will include an explanation of what those studies entail and what will happen after the finalists submit their ultimate designs.
Welcome to Wonderland
Rish Saito is a recent graduate of a master’s program at Southern California Institute of Architecture. His Welcome to Wonderland submission is inspired by the novels of Lewis Carroll.
His project consists of a massive container — 700 feet long, 200 feet tall and 100 feet wide — filled with giant white fiberglass flowers on which light and images can be projected.
It also includes space inside for people to experience the sensation of shrinking to the size of a bee or a butterfly, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
“While Silicon Valley and San Jose is known for its technological advancements, Welcome to Wonderland celebrates the idea that it has been through imagination and wonder that has driven Silicon Valley’s innovative spirit,” the project description says.
Qinrong Lui recently finished his master’s thesis at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Lui took inspiration for Nebula Tower from San Jose’s original icon, the electric light tower, built in 1881.
The design places a “neutral cube with (a) vaguely defined boundary” at the Arena Green West. The cube is 180 feet long and composed of a lattice grid with a hollow tower embedded inside, according to the project’s description.
In the daytime, the lattice grid and the nebulous figure of the tower offers changing images in different perspectives. At night, the tower appears faintly with visual forms within the grid.
Breeze of Innovation
Fernando Jerez, the director of SMAR Architecture Studio, which has offices in Australia and Spain, designed Breeze of Innovation.
It consists of 500 flexible rods, each 200-feet-high, that sway in the breeze. The energy created by that motion will be used to provide electricity to the building. According to the proposal, “the hundreds of rods represent the hundreds of different companies and individuals working together in Silicon Valley.”