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Transbay Transit Center

Mass Movement: San Francisco has made a hefty economic and political investment in its 1 million-square-foot, $4.2 billion Transbay Transit Center.

By Laura Mirviss
November 2012

California Governor Jerry Brown has been a stalwart proponent of high-speed rail for decades. Now midway through a second tour as governor, he has resolved to make it his legacy, despite tremendous political pushback and an eye-popping $68 billion price tag. After years of being dismissed as an unrealistic pipe dream, high-speed rail in California is slated for full operation in the next two decades.

The new transit hub is topped by a lush 5.4-acre public park.
Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli
The new transit hub is topped by a lush 5.4-acre public park.
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Construction is currently under way on the massive $4.2 billion San Francisco Transbay Transit Center, a Pelli Clarke Pelli–designed five-level edifice that will be the city's main bus and train depot. Stretching four blocks along Mission Street and one block south of the Financial District, the new terminal has been billed as the "Grand Central Terminal of the West" and is expected to serve over 45 million people a year. Its two-story, 120-foot-tall entrance hall, elevated bus deck, and roof are slated for completion in 2017. A commuter-rail line connecting to the city's Caltrain system will be operational in 2019 if funding is secured. It will ultimately share tracks with the high-speed rail line.

The building will be capped with a 5.4-acre rooftop park, designed by PWP Landscape Architecture—a feature that helped Pelli Clarke Pelli win the design competition in 2007. The elevated park will be the largest in California and will contain a plaza, an amphitheater, a café, a playground, botanical gardens, and a storm- and graywater capture, treatment, and reuse system.

On track for LEED Gold certification, the glass-and-steel building maximizes natural light and ventilation. It is lined with rippling glass panels and is topped with three elliptical skylights. For unusually warm or cool days, the Grand Hall has a radiant heating and cooling system controlled by pipes in the floor slab. The bus deck is cross-ventilated with 14-foot-wide high-speed fans, while the underground rail platforms will be mechanically ventilated. "Most days, we will be able to regulate the temperature sufficiently just by opening and closing windows," says David Herd, the director of Buro Happold's West Coast office, which did the engineering work for the project.

Developers hope to use the terminal as a springboard for a new commercial and residential hub in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, which will include a Pelli Clarke Pelli–designed, 1,070-foot tower that connects to the terminal. The tower received final approval from the city's Planning Commission in October. "The roof park will look like the ground to thousands of people that spend their day in the air," says Adam Greenspan, a landscape architect at PWP.

Laura Mirviss is an editorial assistant at Architectural Record.

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