Here we go again.
San Jose is considering tearing down the Bank of California, one of the finest examples of brutalism in the South Bay City and the only design by César Pelli. The unfortunately vicious utopian architectural style has its concrete head on the guillotine again.
According to the East Bay Times, San Jose City Council is expected to approve the demolition soon. “Together with the rest of the 10-building financial center now known as City View Plaza, it will create 3.79 million square feet. Foot mega campus proposed by developer Jay Paul. “
The San Francisco developer Jay Paul Company acquired the 8.1-acre property at 170 Park Center Plaza in 2019. The company reportedly had no plans to keep the building intact or incorporate it into its shiny, if listless, redevelopment plans.
The story building dates from 1973 and has a blocky concrete facade that looks like an abstract sphinx. Real estate developer Lew Wolff, who constructed the building, is credited to Pelli, who designed some of the most iconic structures in the world, including Salesforce Tower and Petrons Towers.
“I like the building, but please don’t offend César or (Sidney) Brisker by over-identifying the building with these fine gentlemen,” he told the Bay Area News Group. “If anyone is interested, the real credit should go to the intern who completed the plans.”
Despite the question of who deserves recognition for the design, both architects and preservationists have defended the building and called for its execution to be postponed.
The City’s Historic Landmarks Commission unanimously decided last week to urge the city council to designate the building as a historic landmark, but such performative statements don’t always save a structure from the wrecking ball. Alan Hess, former architecture critic for the San Jose Mercury News, and John Pastier, former architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, have also signed letters of support to keep the Sphinx alive.
While brutalism has been gaining popularity lately – check out the hashtags #brutalism or #brutalismo and you’ll see why – this hasn’t saved these Instagram-friendly structures from the tear-down button. In 2018, the University of California at Berkeley demolished this squat concrete low-rise from 1963, much to the chagrin of architecture freaks, and in 2019 London Green illuminated the demolition of Welbeck Car Station, a famous brutalist parking garage.
It is difficult for the general public to endorse the split style. Brutalist buildings lacking the ornate grandeur of Victorians or the obvious mid-century seamlessness are not for everyone. But for architecture freaks and design nerds – that is, the curbed imprint – the style that senior story producer Diana Budds describes as “ugly delicious” is everything.
“I like the smoothness of the concrete and the carefully placed windows,” says Megan Barber, Curbed’s news editor. “I find it brave and heroic.” While the architecture critic Alexandra Lange notes: “I like it that it looks like you are stepping between the knees of a hero statue.”