Innovation Breeze: San Jose Landmark Design Wins Challenge

The “capital of Silicon Valley” will one day have a flowing, illuminated, kinetic landmark that sways in the wind – provided the design is approved by the San Jose City Council and the project is privately funded and built.

It’s a big challenge, but Breeze of Innovation has already cleared the first hurdle by beating 963 submissions from 72 countries in Urban Confluence Silicon Valley’s contest to design a San Jose landmark. The design aims to highlight the innovative heritage of Silicon Valley and pays homage to the long-collapsed “Electric Tower” of 1881, the original inspiration for the competition.

The structure’s 1,000 flexible stainless steel poles, which move with the wind, generate electricity and support accessible platforms, made their success possible. A 14-person jury of local, national and international architects, designers and citizens judged the designs based on their constructibility and sustainability, and how much more vibrant each Arena Green, an urban park on Santa Clara Street, would make between cities could be the Guadalupe River and the SAP Center in downtown San Jose.

Designed by Fer Jerez and Belen de Juan of SMAR Architecture Studio with offices in Perth, Australia and Madrid, Spain, one day visitors can climb a series of ramps and feel the swaying of the forest of poles with illuminated spikes from a distance will look like a constellation of Lights that move in the wind at night. As planned, it will cost approximately $ 100 million, all funded by donations and other voluntary contributions.

Jerez says his final year was spent researching, planning, designing, and patiently waiting for delays related to Covid-19 only to find out on a March 22 conference call that Breeze of Innovation was the final design . He compared the tension to a Hitchcock movie.

“It was here in the morning [in Australia]So it wasn’t time to open the bottle of champagne for breakfast, ”Jerez told San Jose Inside. “We were very confident because I think we had the best project, but nothing is guaranteed. … We were very grateful and happy to win. “

The competition specifically turned down a direct replica of the old San Jose electric light tower, but Jerez opted for a modern twist on the 19th century San Jose structure.

“We thought if something represented 21st century knowledge, it was invisibility – technology is invisible; It’s all around us, but we don’t see it, ”said Jerez. “The little kids of Silicon Valley were kind of Harry Potters of our time – the new wizards – so each rod is a kind of wand that lights the tip when the wind comes up.”

Breeze of Innovation emerged as the first choice in the Urban Confluence Silicon Valley competition.

Jerez and his team have been planning and testing scaled wind tunnel models for the past seven months after Breeze of Innovation made it into the top three finalists in the competition in July. There is still much to be done, but Jerez does not expect any obstacles to its success.

“When you try to innovate, there is always a risk,” said Jerez, “but when we design something we know what we are doing – we knew it would work.”

His trust is based in part on working with civil engineers at Magnusson Klemencic Associates who have more than 100 years of experience, including designing the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, as well as the Levi’s and Avaya stadiums.

Breeze of Innovation questions the memory of international landmarks like the recognizable shape of the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House and the St. Louis Gateway. Rather, Jerez said that they reject any silhouette in order to pursue infinite shapes flowing in the wind.

“We’re so excited about this project because we couldn’t find anything like it,” he said. “Because the ambitions of the organizers were so high – they wanted something that would bring people not only from San Jose but also from America and the world – you need to create an experience that is absolutely unique.”

Steve Borkenhagen, executive director of San Jose Light Tower Corp., the nonprofit responsible for the initiative, said Breeze of Innovation emerged as a “clear winner” for representing San Jose.

“One of the things that intrigued the jury is the idea that the spirit of innovation that is manifested in the breeze really represents Silicon Valley and San Jose,” said Borkenhagen. “There was a sense of poetry that separated it from the rest, and some people thought it almost had a spirituality; When you see these reed-like structures moving in the wind, there is something really human and powerful about it. “

Breeze of Innovation emerged as the first choice in the Urban Confluence Silicon Valley competition.

After four years of planning, filing, and deliberation, the 200-foot structure is set to include an exhibition space, café, and elevators to a vantage point for the entire Santa Clara Valley. However, the final details and the logistics will be specified in the next phase 3.

Breeze of Innovation prevailed over the other two finalists, Nebula Tower and Welcome to Wonderland. “Nebula”, whose team was led by the youngest Harvard graduate Qinrong Liu, surrounded a light, tower-like, conical void with a grating. Rish Saito’s “wonderland” was an “artificial natural garden” with oversized white flowers that could be lit into a multicolored fantasy land inspired by Lewis Carroll’s fiction.

Borkenhagen said the project, which would be a gift to the city of San Jose, has already provided $ 2.5 million to complete the project from around 400 donors, including corporate investors like Adobe and Applied Materials, as well as private foundations and households. Borkenhagen expects thousands to contribute before the project is completed.

Breeze of Innovation has yet to be approved by the San Jose City Council. A discussion is provisionally planned for May 4, 2021. Borkenhagen said the Urban Confluence team has been communicating with the entire San Jose City Council, officials from the Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services, Department and the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy throughout the project’s progress due to its location on urban land so nothing will come as a surprise.

The area earmarked for this massive project continues to make headlines as the home of hundreds of undocumented residents who have made camp along the Guadalupe River – a stark contrast that has led some residents to question the need for the project deliver. But Borkenhagen said there should be no either-or situation against artistic, architectural activities. Rather, he said it was central to their mission to provide beautiful parks and objects that all can see for free.

San Jose Councilor Raul Peralez agrees. Despite the stark dichotomy between announcing the $ 100 million structure and his peers’ voices about demolishing camps and approving temporary housing projects, Peralez sees the upcoming artistic structure as placemaking and hopefully draws more community members to the park .

“Right now, Arena Green is an underutilized public space and I believe such an investment can be a catalyst for change,” Peralez wrote in an email. “The city and the general public will benefit from this privately funded project, and it will not take a penny away from resources that provide housing and basic needs.”

Breeze of Innovation emerged as the first choice in the Urban Confluence Silicon Valley competition.

Looking ahead, Borkenhagan said the team looks forward to completing the steps to physically put Silicon Valley on the map and hope to produce celebratory champagne by 2025.

“A place as important and affluent as Silicon Valley should have a physical icon that people can use to instantly see where we are, and we really don’t have that yet,” said Borkenhagen. “Placemaking is really important, and having nice places to go, have a sandwich or a beer, admire something beautiful and have the inspiration that art and architecture give us is a critical part of life.”

Jerez agreed, especially as the world tiptoes towards reopening amid Covid-19 vaccines.

“We felt that after this very difficult year with the pandemic, we need these kind of public spaces more than ever – spaces that can get people to be together again,” Jerez said. “Now that we’ve had these years of psychological and social distancing, we hope people can fully enjoy it until the end.

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