Ziggurat's big brother
There's a new kid on the riverfront as CalSTRS erects West Sac headquarters
By Mary Lynne Vellinga of The Sacramento Bee
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
The new headquarters for the California State Teachers' Retirement System, above, will rise 280 feet tall next to the ziggurat building, which until now has been the tallest structure on the West Sacramento waterfront.
Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton
West Sacramento's ziggurat building, long a brash but only child screaming across the river that the city had arrived, is about to get a taller and more subdued sibling.
The new California State Teachers' Retirement System headquarters, now rising on the waterfront, will stand 280 feet tall, nearly twice the height of the ziggurat. The $253 million building will contain 18 floors of parking and office space.
Its design represents a marked departure in style from the attention-getting ziggurat, which local architects have long loved to hate, but which nonetheless has become one of the best known features of the riverfront.
Clad in glass, the CalSTRS building will curve as it approaches the river, coming to a narrow point. The curve will create more views of the river, while the narrow edge of the building facing east will reduce energy use -- one of many green features.
Conference rooms will be in the tapered edge, with the best river views.
"It will be incredible," said Paul Woolford, director of design for the San Francisco office of Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum Inc., or HOK, the international architecture firm that designed the pension fund building. "From the tower, you will be able to see the point at which the (Sacramento and American) rivers converge.
"The building is really designed to look like a large, billowing sail of glass, almost as if the wind has caught it," he said. "We took inspiration from the idea that there's this confluence of the rivers, and this is a former shipbuilding site."
HOK designed many of the high-rise buildings constructed in Sacramento during the past 20 years, including Esquire Plaza, the Wells Fargo Center and the new office tower under construction at 621 Capitol Mall.
Its West Sacramento project, expected to open in spring 2009, is winning praise from some of the same design enthusiasts who dislike the ziggurat.
Developer Mark Friedman, who is also pursuing projects on the West Sacramento waterfront, said he likes the building's curved side, and the walking plaza that connects it to the waterfront.
"It does a very nice job of inviting people from the street edge to the water," he said. In contrast, the limestone and beige-tinted glass of the ziggurat makes it feel like an isolated object with no connection to the river, he said.
"One of the flaws of the ziggurat is it doesn't really respond to the attributes of the site," Friedman said. "What they were trying to do was create a monolithic look that emulated the pyramids."
John Packowski of PHA Architects said the CalSTRS building is "striking in its simplicity," although he complained that the north side is too bland.
"This is more indicative of where the future of West Sacramento's architecture is going," Packowski said. The city of West Sacramento last month approved a high-rise condominium tower -- also to be financed by CalSTRS -- next door to the new headquarters. More office and residential buildings also are in the works.
"The city of West Sacramento is at a transformational point," Woolford said. "I don't think it will be recognized as the same place in 10 years."
Yet even as West Sacramento's downtown grows up, Packowski said, it will be hard to obscure the prominence of its pyramid-shaped firstborn in the view from downtown Sacramento.
"You're not ever going to not see the ziggurat," he said.
West Sacramento's longtime Redevelopment Director Val Toppenberg said the city's handling of development projects has changed considerably since the ziggurat was constructed in 1997.
In those early days of cityhood, West Sacramento officials were scrambling to lure some office tenants to the long neglected waterfront.
"We were in a much different position in those days," Toppenberg said.
The man behind the pyramid was Marc Turtletaub, who built it as a headquarters for the Money Store, which he headed. The project was shrouded in secrecy. The Money Store refused to release public renderings until it was completed.
After the Money Store went out of business, the state took over the ziggurat.
"The designers of the CalSTRS building worked with the city very closely to come up with a design," Toppenberg said. "On the ziggurat building, the designer and the owners pretty much came up with the building and said, 'Here it is. Take it or leave it.' "
Still, Toppenberg says he's personally fond of the ziggurat, which was designed by Ed Kado, the architect who recently proposed building a high-rise on the Capitol Mall with a replica of the Parthenon on top, an idea that was later dropped.
"I love it because it was the first building on our waterfront," Toppenberg said. "It created an iconic feature, and it's something West Sacramento has really been able to be proud of."