Art and Architecture Merge in Salesforce Transit Center


As San Francisco’s multi-story Salesforce Transit Center opens this weekend with a public celebration, there are still a few unknowns: the start date of train service, the tenant for the restaurant space in the five-acre rooftop park and how to finagle a private ride on the gondola, which is slated to begin gliding through the newly coined East Cut high-rise district at some point this fall. But one thing is certain—thanks to the influence of San Francisco Arts Commission, there are several interesting public art works in the Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed structure for people to encounter as they move through the space.

photo by Tim Griffith

At ground level, Bay Area artist Julie Chang’s 20,000-square-foot terrazzo floor mural, titled Secret Garden, radiates from the base of the Grand Hall’s central column in an exuberant tapestry of motifs drawn from African and Indian textiles, Grecian pottery, Islamic tilework and California-themed birds and flowers. Bronze and zinc accents—hand-placed by the artist with expert guidance from San Francisco’s Associated Terrazzo—depict lady bugs and other friendly insects, contributing to what Chang described to a press audience earlier this week as the work’s “joyful expression of nature and form.”

Photo by Julie Chang

With the new terminal also comes San Francisco’s first permanent public artwork by New York-based artist Jenny Holzer, known for her politically incisive LED signs. Scrolling above the atrium, her digital piece White Light wraps the elliptical oculus with a 182-foot-long LED screen displaying 16-foot-high text. Will the artist pull off another feat of subliminal subversion with this installation? We’ll see once Holzer’s own texts starts appearing. For now, people can read excerpts from some 40 renowned authors with connections to the Bay Area, including John Muir, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Joan Didion, Harvey Milk and Dashiell Hammett.

Jenny Holzer’s White Light; photo by Tim Griffith

Jenny Holzer’s White Light; photo by Tim Griffith

The most interactive of the works, Ned Kahn’s Bus Jet Fountain continues the Bay Area artist’s interest in making natural phenomena visible. His piece is a long, granite dry-bed fountain that hugs one side of the elevated garden’s half-mile walking loop. When activated, it visualizes the flow pattern of buses moving through the station below. On a preview tour, Kahn explained how the kinetic sculpture operates, noting “ultrasonic sensors on the ceiling of the lower deck send out high-frequency sound waves and as the buses intercept each beam of sound their motion triggers the water jets.”

Ned Kahn’s Bus Jet Fountain in action; photo by Tim Griffith

Too often, public art is an afterthought in buildings. Here, the pieces feel truly incorporated into the architecture. “I think commuters will not be that bothered if their train is a little delayed because the work is so engaging,” says San Francisco Art Commission’s Jill Manton, who was instrumental in shepherding the art elements. For those caught standing in the wrong place when Kahn’s sporadic geysers shoot up, the art could be literally immersive, as well.

The Salesforce Transit Center’s grand opening and neighborhood block party is Saturday, August 11, from noon to 4pm.

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