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Competition: San Jose landmark, California

The San Jose Light Tower Corporation has launched an international ideas contest for a new landmark structure in Silicon Valley (Deadline: 3 April)

Open to architects, urban planners, students, designers, and engineers, the two-stage Urban Confluence Silicon Valley competition seeks proposals for an iconic net-zero energy building reflecting the ‘breathless sense of possibility’ of the region which defined modern computing.

The project – inspired by landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao – will create a centrepiece for the district while also protecting and celebrating its natural landscape. Three finalists will each receive $150,000 to refine their concepts.

Contest site: San Jose landmark, California

Contest site: San Jose landmark, California

Contest site: San Jose landmark, California

In its brief, the corporation says: ‘The competition is open; the desires are clear. The only requirement is passion to create a must-see landmark that will enhance community life in America’s 10th largest city while reflecting the extraordinary legacy of this remarkable global centre of life-changing thought.

‘The competition seeks a transformative design complete with dramatic lighting, a net-zero energy approach, and an impressive physical presence that will become a powerful and enduring symbol of how Silicon Valley operates as a bridge from past to present to future. Urban Confluence Silicon Valley can be a structure, an object, a sculpture, a work of architecture—with an activated landscape enjoyed both day and night.’

San Jose is the economic centre of Silicon Valley, a region of California which has played a pioneering role in computing and social media over recent decades. Foster + Partners completed a Californian HQ for technology giant Apple in the area two years ago although generally the area is not renowned for the impact of its architecture.

The free-to-enter competition, organised by the not-for-profit San Jose Light Tower Corporation, was inspired by the historic 1881 San José Electric Light Tower landmark which collapsed following a storm in 1915.

Contest site: San Jose landmark, California

Contest site: San Jose landmark, California

Contest site: San Jose landmark, California

It focuses on a 5.8ha site known as Arena Green within the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens in central San Jose. Proposals will be expected to respect the ecology of the site and nearby watercourses.

Initial applications should include a short written explanation and two conceptual images. Judges will include San José Light Tower Corporation chair Jon Ball; Jodi Starbird, president of the board of directors at the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy; and Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao.

Around 50 longlisted entries will feature in a public exhibition in November prior to the selection of the three finalist teams. An overall winner will be announced in May 2020.

How to apply


The deadline for application has been extended to 3 April 2020

Contact details

San Jose Light Tower Corporation
160 West Santa Clara Street
Suite 900
San Jose
CA 95113

Tel: 408-813-5984

View the competition website for more information

Q&A with Jon Ball

The chair of the San José Light Tower Corporation discusses his ambitions for the competition

Jon Ball

Jon Ball

Jon Ball

Why are your holding a contest for a major new landmark in San Jose?

San Jose and Silicon Valley are known for taking risk, being innovative, and changing the way people think and accomplish their goals. Our community is comprised of an extremely diverse population, and the local businesses, including high tech, are also comprised of people from all over the world, from different cultures, religions, and ethnicity. We believe we are the greatest example of diverse people working in quiet harmony, to accomplish great things. Therefore, we feel it is extremely fitting and important to open up this competition to people all over the world, since that is where our people have come from since the days of the earliest settlers, when this place was known as the Valley of Hearts Delight.

What is your vision for the new artistic or architectural structure?

Our hope and expectation is the new iconic structure will include amenities that encourage public interaction. We (and our City of San Jose partners) also strongly want the park to be activated as a result of this project. The total Park is over 5.6 hectares, but not all of that is buildable due to Riparian Corridor setbacks and other constraints. The design must be durable, enduring, and of high quality. Net Zero is a minimum expectation.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

It is open to everyone. We are inspired by the story of Maya Lin (who won the competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC at age 21). International teams do not need to collaborate with local firms for the initial Phase (open ideas competition). For the next phase, having local experience on the team will be very important for proper execution.

San Jose

San Jose

Source: Image by Google Earth

San Jose

Are there any other recent iconic landmark projects you have been impressed by?

There are many. We are inspired by The Seattle Space Needle, The Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, The St. Louis Arch, The Statue of Liberty, The Eiffel Tower, the Sidney Opera House, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. All of these help identify the country and the city in which they exist, and they all create a sense of identity and pride for the people who live there. Silicon Valley and San Jose have many, many buildings, and also art, yet none of these create the sense of identity and pride for our community. Many interesting buildings are private, for high tech businesses, and are internally focused and not open to the public. San Jose is the 10th most populous city in the USA. Our vision is to create the place that when locals and visitors bring guests to explore our area, THEY MUST go visit this park and our project. It will be exciting, and magnetic. The world’s next icon awaits.

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