Symbol of Silicon Valley takes shape as list of finalists narrows
This "Digital Cloud" design was submitted for Urban Confluence Silicon Valley, an international competition to create an iconic landmark in Silicon Valley. Image courtesy of UCSV.

The anticipation has been building for more than a year.

And the suspense will linger a little longer — but soon a jury of renowned architects, designers and engineers will have selected three finalists from nearly 1,000 entries in a competition to create an original design that represents Silicon Valley to the world the way the Eiffel Tower represents Paris.

Last summer a group of Silicon Valley philanthropists announced a contest, Urban Confluence Silicon Valley, to build an iconic landmark at Arena Green in San Jose’s Guadalupe River Park to represent the region’s spirit of innovation.

“From the beginning, we’ve been looking for something that will be enduring, not trendy,” said Jon Ball, who represents the San Jose Light Tower Corporation on the jury. “It has got to have a timelessness to it so that in a few years or decades will not be obsolete or feel dated.”

The original deadline for submissions was April 3 and the finalists were expected to be chosen by the all-star jury after face-to-face deliberations in May. But coronavirus delayed those plans. The deadline was extended to July 1 and the jury met online for the first time this week.

Ball told San José Spotlight the panel already has whittled down the field to less than a dozen project proposals and is scheduled to reconvene this weekend to finish deliberations and select the finalists — which will be announced Sept. 18. Here’s a look at some of the final designs that could become Silicon Valley’s icon.

The jury includes Jon Cicirelli, San Jose’s director of Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services, and Jodi Starbird, president of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy Board of Directors.

The contest received more than 970 submissions from all over the globe. Every juror reviewed at least 500 submissions each and the majority of the panel reviewed more than 90 percent of all the submissions.

“The Ribbon” design was submitted for Urban Confluence Silicon Valley, an international competition to create an iconic landmark at Arena Green in Guadalupe River Park in San Jose. Image courtesy of UCSV.

Urban Confluence Silicon Valley board member Steve Borkenhagen praised the jury’s dedication and commitment to the goal of building an iconic landmark.

“I couldn’t possibly be more impressed with a group of people than I am with this jury,” Borkenhagen said.

Ball echoed those kudos.

“I’m so proud of our jury,” Ball said. “They knew what they signed up for and they respect the fact that this is a very important project for our community.”

Each design team will receive $150,000 to develop its project proposals for the rest of 2020. The jury will select a winner in the first quarter of 2021 and that design ultimately will be built by the designer, paid for by the philanthropists and donated to San Jose.

Ball told San José Spotlight the nonprofit that organized the competition also wants the landmark to be “something reflective of our values as a society, and memorable in appearance so it will be recognizable as symbolic of Silicon Valley and San Jose.”

“We kept the submission requirements simple and open-ended,” Ball said. “We didn’t want to scare people away by asking them to fully develop their idea.”

That’s why contest organizers separated it into two phases. The second phase begins when the finalists are selected and they set out to make sure their design is feasible and “respectful of the natural surroundings of Arena Green, the crown jewel of the Guadalupe River Trail.”

Organizers say they want the landmark to be accessible to everyone.

“Our goal is to bring joy to people,” Borkenhagen said. “This is supposed to be fun, beautiful and intellectually stimulating.”

And they want the icon to be a destination in Silicon Valley that draws visitors from around the Bay Area and the world.

“We want people to be there, enjoying that space, day and night, year round,” Borkenhagen said.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at [email protected] or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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