Adobe’s Proposed North Tower Panned as ‘Flat, Bulky and Boxy’

Downtown San Jose’s architectural review board has weighed in on Adobe’s expansion at 333 W. San Fernando St., calling its proposed fourth tower “flat, bulky and boxy” and its design as a “somewhat anonymous glass box … with few distinguishing features.”

The critique is clearly a challenge to Adobe Inc., which supplies “Creative Cloud” tools such as Illustrator, Photoshop and Premiere to the world’s photographers, artists, designers and filmmakers to be a little more, well, creative.

The letter was signed by Katia McClain on behalf of the San Jose Downtown Association’s Downtown Design Committee, a volunteer group that includes a number of working architects and meets regularly to provide recommendations to the city on significant downtown projects.

The group urges Adobe to develop “a more elegant presence” that which the DDC hopes will include a tourist-friendly Adobe retail store and iconic pedestrian bridge along San Fernando street, which could become a gateway between the new Google campus and the present downtown core.

The urbanists suggested that a well-designed bridge could contribute a “wow factor” and add “visual punch and excitement.” The current plans, which would allow Adobe’s employees to cross San Fernando Street to a parking facility, “lacks character and looks like a simple precast concrete structure.”

The architectural committee’s blunt assessment of the North Tower project—a 690,000-square-foot building that’s already proceeding under entitlements by JP DiNapoli Companies—cautions Adobe against letting budget and time constraints compromise aesthetics of a such a prominent addition to the city skyline.

“As designed, the North Tower … is unarticulated and monolithic,” the review opines.

To break up the blocky skyline, design reviewers recommended taking advantage of increased height limits to create an “articulated roofline” or amenity space. Downtown buildings have long been criticized for being boxy since buildings in the airport’s flight path are height-limited and developers need to maximize square footage. That’s why San Jose’s skyline doesn’t have spires or tapered towers that add visual interest to many of the world’s leading cities.

“We would like to see something useful and creative done with the rooflines, which currently reads as a giant mesa,” the assessment states.

The team expressed concern about the project’s impact on San Fernando Street, an east-west corridor from the site of the proposed Google village to the downtown core, and three year-long closures of certain lanes.

“We understand that projects develop incrementally and warrant solutions for their context,” the letter reads, “however, the city is in the midst of a dramatic makeover of the Diridon area’s 250 acres and with only a single handful of east-west downtown streets available must give the big picture priority.”

Adobe, however, was commended for proposing a parking structure that would be open to the public and represent a net gain of 842 new parking space to a heavily trafficked part of downtown.

The committee members applauded Adobe’s massive new investment in downtown, which will complement the company’s current trio of towers, one of which is graced by the iconic spinning “semaphore,” one of the skyline’s defining features. But they urged Adobe to step it up a little with this new tower.

“The committee was hoping for a stronger architectural statement,” the review says, “but acknowledges the North Tower is an important step forward for the city and its largest downtown private sector employer.”


  1. May I suggest a giant mirrored glass pyramid with steps to the top with sacrificial alter to the sun gods on which Mayan priests will cut the harts out of living doubter of climate change, and then their bodies will be cast into the Guadalupe River from the top.

      • After 45 year in this nut house I might well be cra.
        But then again I’m just pointing out the hedonistic nature of the tribal culture that this city hold in high regard.

  2. San Fernando Street is an up and coming entryway into the core of downtown SJ, especially with the transit hub that is Diridon Station, and from the upcoming Google Village just to the west of Adobe’s campus. With Adobe poised to be on both sides of the street as you make your way from Diridon and into downtown, I agree that the new fourth tower needs to add some pop to the skyline. What I see in the illustration in this online article doesn’t do much to that end.

    I searched all over SJDA’s website for the letter itself from San Jose Downtown Association’s Downtown Design Committee. But I couldn’t find it. Is there any way that we could get a pointer to it, perhaps in these comments?

  3. Where was the SJDTA’s Downtown Design Committee when the building at Market and W. Santa Clara was allowed to present a facade that looks like it was made from cast-off windows from the old SF Jack Tar Hotel?

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