San Jose narrowing down designs for iconic landmark
Urban Confluence Executive Director Steve Borkenhagen explains logistics to a group of residents and competition-hopefuls at an Arena Green site tour Sunday afternoon. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

After a yearlong international competition yielded almost 1,000 designs, San Jose is one step closer to getting its iconic landmark.

The Urban Confluence Silicon Valley competition, hosted by the nonprofit San Jose Light Tower Corporation, was launched last July with the goal of creating an “impressive and recognizable” structure unique to San Jose that will transform the Arena Green into a must-see destination.

Almost 1,000 design submissions from 72 different countries as diverse as Egypt, South Korea and Russia, poured in up until the deadline on July 1.  More than half of the submissions came from outside the United States.

“The fact that we were able to get almost 1,000 submissions from 72 countries and six continents… speaks to the creative juices of the world,” Steve Borkenhagen, executive director of the San Jose Light Tower Corporation, told San José Spotlight.

A community competition panel, made up of 34 local community leaders, took two days to review the submissions and narrow it down to 47 recommendations for the jury to consider. Representatives from organizations such as the Sierra Club, the African-American Services Agency, Little Italy and the city and county were part of the panel.

The community panel’s recommendations are “a stamp from the local people” that lets the jury know which designs were favored by San Joseans, Borkenhagen said, but the jury is not confined to choose from only those designs.

The jury of 14 people is made up of architects and designers, as well as officials from the city’s parks and recreation department and one of the founders of San Jose Light Tower Corporation, Jon Ball. Selecting the jury took almost a year and was delayed due to the pandemic, Borkenhagen said. But now they are finally settling in to deliberate on the designs.

“I think we did a good job of creating a wide variety of people with a good cross-section of skills (on the jury),” Borkenhagen said.

The jury and the community panel reviewed the submissions with the criteria outlined in the Urban Confluence Silicon Valley competition brief and included feedback from a community meeting in November, Borkenhagen said.

All of the submissions will be posted online by July 24 for public comment on the Urban Confluence Silicon Valley website.  Three finalists will be selected in August and announced in mid-September.

Once the three finalists are selected, phase two of the competition will begin, in which each finalist will receive a $150,000 stipend to refine their design and make sure it meets criteria for accessibility, environmental impact and safety standards, among other things. The finalists will also have the opportunity to solicit feedback from neighbors and nearby businesses.

The Urban Confluence Silicon Valley project has drawn the support of the Silicon Valley Organization, the San Jose Downtown Association and several current and former city councilmembers. In July of last year, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $100,000 grant to the San Jose Light Tower Corporation for the competition.

“We’re looking for a world-class design that can stand up to the best places in the world,” Borkenhagen said.

Contact Stella Lorence at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @slorence3.

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