Breeze of Innovation: San Jose Landmark Design Wins Challenge

The “Capital of Silicon Valley” will one day have a fluid, illuminated, kinetic landmark, swaying in the breeze—that is, assuming the design is approved by the San Jose City Council and the project is privately funded and built.

It's a tall order, but Breeze of Innovation has already jumped the first hurdle by besting 963 submissions from 72 countries in Urban Confluence Silicon Valley’s competition to design a San Jose landmark. The design aims to highlight Silicon Valley’s innovative legacy and pays homage to the city’s long-collapsed 1881 “Electric Tower,” the original inspiration for the competition.

The structure’s 1,000 flexible stainless steel rods, designed to move with the wind, generate power and support walkable platforms, enabled its success. A 14-member jury of local, national and international architects, designers and civic leaders evaluated the designs based on their constructibility and sustainability and how much more lively each could make Arena Green, a city-owned park on Santa Clara Street, in between the Guadalupe River and the SAP Center in Downtown San Jose.

Designed by Fer Jerez and Belen de Juan of SMAR Architecture Studio, which has offices in Perth, Australia and Madrid, Spain, visitors may one day ascend a series of ramps and feel the sway of the forest of rods with illuminated tips that from a distance will look like a constellation of lights moving in the breeze at night. As envisioned, it'll cost somewhere around $100 million, funded entirely through donations and other voluntary contributions.

Jerez says his last year was spent researching, planning, designing and patiently waiting through Covid-19-related delays to find out on a March 22 conference call that Breeze of Innovation was the last design standing. He compared the suspense to watching a Hitchcock film.

“It was in the morning here [in Australia], so it was not time to open the bottle of champagne for breakfast,” Jerez told San Jose Inside. “We were very confident in this one because I think we had the best project, but nothing is guaranteed. … We were very grateful and happy to win.”

The competition specifically rejected direct recreations of the old San Jose electric light tower, but Jerez decided to take a modern spin on the 19th Century San Jose structure.

“We thought that if something represented the knowledge of the 21st Century, it is invisibility—technology is invisible; it’s around us, but we don't see it,” Jerez said. “Silicon Valley’s young kids were kind of Harry Potters of our time—the new magicians—so each single rod is kind of a magic wand that lights up the at tip when the wind comes.”

Breeze of Innovation has emerged as the top choice in the Urban Confluence Silicon Valley contest.

Jerez and his team have spent the past seven months planning and testing scaled wind tunnel models after Breeze of Innovation made it to the top three finalist for the contest in July. There's still plenty of work to do, but Jerez isn’t expecting any barriers to success.

“When you try to be innovative, there's always risk,” Jerez said,” but when we design something, we know what we're doing—we knew it would work.”

His confidence comes, in part, from working with structural engineers at Magnusson Klemencic Associates, which have more than 100 years of experience, including designing Manhattan’s World Trade Center and San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower as well as Levi’s and Avaya stadiums.

Breeze of Innovation challenges how international landmarks are remembered, such as the recognizable shape of the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House and St Louis Gateway. Rather, Jerez said they are rejecting any one silhouette in pursuit of infinite forms flowing in the wind.

“We are so enthusiastic about this project because we haven't been able to find anything like it,” he said. “Because the ambition of the organizers was that high—they wanted something to bring people not only from San Jose but from America and the world—you need to create an experience that is completely unique.”

Steve Borkenhagen, executive director of San Jose Light Tower Corp., the nonprofit responsible for the initiative, said that engineering innovation is why Breeze of Innovation emerged as a “clear winner” to represent San Jose.

“One of the things the jury was fascinated by is the idea that the spirit of innovation manifested in the breeze really represented Silicon Valley and San Jose,” Borkenhagen said. “There was a sense of poetry about it that separated it from the others, and some people thought it almost had a spirituality about it; when you see those reed-like structures moving in the breeze, there's something really human and powerful about it.”

Breeze of Innovation has emerged as the top choice in the Urban Confluence Silicon Valley contest.

After four years of planning, submissions and deliberation, the 200-foot structure is slated to include an exhibition space, cafe and elevators to a vantage point of the entire Santa Clara Valley, but final details and logistics will be fleshed out in the upcoming Phase 3.

Breeze of Innovation came out ahead of the other two finalists, Nebula Tower and Welcome to Wonderland. “Nebula,” whose team was led by recent Harvard grad Qinrong Liu, surrounded a light tower-like conical void with a lattice grid. Rish Saito’s “Wonderland” was an “artificial nature” garden of oversized white flowers that could be illuminated into a multi-colored fantasy land inspired by Lewis Carroll’s fiction.

Borkenhagen said the project, which would be a gift to the city of San Jose, has already crowdsourced $2.5 million towards the project’s completion from around 400 donors, including corporate investors like Adobe and Applied Materials and private foundations and households. Borkenhagen expects thousands will contribute before the project is done.

Breeze of Innovation must still be approved by the San Jose City Council, with a discussion tentatively scheduled for May 4, 2021. Borkenhagen said the Urban Confluence team has communicated with the entire San Jose City Council, officials from the Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services Department and the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy throughout the project’s progression due to its location on city-owned land, so nothing will present a surprise.

The area slated for this massive project continues to make headlines as a home to hundreds of unhoused residents, who’ve taken up camp along the Guadalupe River—a stark contrast prompting some residents to question the project’s necessity. But Borkenhagen said there shouldn’t be an “either or” situation against artistic, architectural pursuits. Rather, he said providing beautiful parks and objects for all to see for free is central to their mission.

San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez agrees. Despite the stark dichotomy between the $100 million structure’s announcement and his colleagues’ votes on razing encampments and approving temporary housing projects, Peralez sees the upcoming artistic structure as placemaking, hopefully drawing more community members into the park.

“Currently the Arena Green is an underutilized public open space, and it is my belief an investment like this can be a catalyst for change,” Peralez wrote in an email. “The City and the general public will be the beneficiary of this privately funded project, and it is not taking one penny away from any resources that provide housing and basic needs.”

Breeze of Innovation has emerged as the top choice in the Urban Confluence Silicon Valley contest.

Looking ahead, Borkenhagan said the team is excited to start finalizing steps to put Silicon Valley physically on the map, with hopes to pop celebratory champagne by 2025.

“A place as important and wealthy as Silicon Valley should have a physical icon that people use instantly to recognize where we are, and we really don't have that yet,” Borkenhagen said. “Placemaking really matters, and having beautiful places where you can go, have a sandwich or a beer, admire something beautiful and have that inspiration that art and architecture give to us, it's a critical part of life.”

Jerez agreed, especially while the world tiptoes towards reopening amid Covid-19 vaccines.

“We felt that after this very tough year with the pandemic, we need these kinds of public spaces more than ever – spaces that can trigger people to be together again,” Jerez said. “Now after spending these years with a psychological and social distancing … we hope that by the time we finish, people can fully enjoy it.

31 Comments

  1. looks like Disney or Vegas

    first you wanted to be the next Los Angeles (annexation fiasco)

    then you wanted to be the “Capital of Silicon Valley” (SV is run by evil geniuses and is nothing to be proud of or emulate – a necessary evil in some eyes, but if you really knew how they thought you’d never ever want to be their capital)

    then you wanted to be the next San Francisco (no amount of SoFAs or progressive city council puppets of subversive SJSU Associate Professors will change your deep family and conservative values, no matter how many time you vote for Democrats)

    all of these charades were duds – stop trying to be someone else!

    San Jose, you are a bedroom community. What matters is churches, families, parks, small businesses, libraries, schools, community. You want cool – go elsewhere, you want edge – go elsewhere, you want rich – go elsewhere. Be the place you raise kids.

    Figure out a way to make that work and you will be fine, try to be something your not and you will be lost forever.

  2. I find your promotion of religion disgusting. Churches are artifacts of ignorance and oppression. Look at how some churches in the area have worsened the pandemic, out of sheer selfish arrogance, they contribute to the literal death of this community.

  3. Yawn.

    San José will always play second fiddle to San Francisco, and The City has a host of its own problems now.

    In the “modern era,” if you will, only two San José politicians have distinguished themselves beyond the provincial and parochial nature of the place: Norm Mineta and Janet Gray Hayes.

    As for Tom McEnery, he remains the kingmaker of a political and cultural backwater overrun by high-tech philistines.

    Those belonging to the Bellarmine/SCU mafia should be ashamed of themselves but are too drunk on hubris to know or care. And it does not help matters when its members glad-hand one another, or that a coterie of sycophants blow smoke up their asses.

  4. $100M from private donations (did I read that correctly?)

    How about $100M to build emergency and transitional housing on the Fair Grounds and put community the behind resolving our unhoused and homeless pandemic?

  5. Michael P O’Connor, your final paragraph captures perfectly the corruption and collusion that has played a key role in maintaining the deplorable status quo in this town’s political and business communities.

    Thank you for exposing the centuries of hypocrisy behind the Jesuit empire’s blatant, unapologetic worship of the almighty . . . dollar.

  6. How boring, It looks like a fountain that got stuck.
    Now there is a thought, why not a real Bellagio fountain with music and action, if you don’t like the show you can always change it to “Just Say Goodbye” for all the people moving out of state. Maybe it will do requests.

  7. SJ KULAK>
    >San Jose, you are a bedroom community. What matters is churches, families, parks, small businesses, libraries, schools, community. You want cool – go elsewhere, you want edge – go elsewhere, you want rich – go elsewhere. Be the place you raise kids.

    I like your thinking, unfortunately it’s too late for San Jose. Cocoa Beach Florida looks nice though.

  8. Mr. Cortese

    I was born in Cocoa Beach!!!

    My dad was a technician dude in the space program in the old rocket days when they still were doing “lunar missions”, RF or some such… he won’t confirm nor deny the lunar landing hoax though, never speaks of it

    with five kids (good catholic marriage) we were firmly in the renter category, pretty sure we rented a house, but he was at IBM and out of Cocoa by the time I can remember…

    Went back there all the time during college, the place had a thoroughly encrusted working class patina though

    for ninety youre sweeping sand out your front door

    490 S Orlando Ave APT 9, Cocoa Beach, FL 32931

    buck eighty five you’re walkin to the beach

    658 S Atlantic Ave APT 5, Cocoa Beach, FL 32931

    two fifty and your kids are in the pool all day while you listen to audible books on the beach, betcha the pier has a kickin arcade with all the retro classics

    4700 Ocean Beach Blvd APT 316, Cocoa Beach, FL 32931

  9. …an icon of greed – kinda fitting. you could do a whole lot more for the city by spreading that $100M amongst 1,000 independent creative startups – give your citizens a real reason to come downtown, real reasons to engage and support San Jose

  10. …you’d do better to spread that $100M amongst 500-1,000 local, young, creative, independent start-ups – give the resident tax-payers a real purpose to come downtown, real enterprises to engage in and support. wouldn’t you want a buzz of culture as a landmark rather than a worthless “icon to greed” – although an icon to greed is quite fitting for San Jose i must say 🤔

  11. The most recent IRS filing https://www.urbanconfluencesiliconvalley.org/hubfs/2019%20SJLT%20990%20Form.pdf shows the biggest donors are a real estate development company and Santa Clara County: $100,000 each.

    Why is SCC squandering our money on this and who approved it?

    While no salaries are drawn, almost $260,000 in various expenses. Typically, expensed as schmoozing potential donors at expensive restaurants, consulting trips to Europe, etc. Then there’s the happy coincidence that one director happens to own an event company. “Program Services” were responsible for 80% of expenses.

    Donations dropped by almost 2/3rds from prior year, yet “pop the cork” in 4 years. Using the most recently reported donations, it will take 250 years to $100 million (which is almost certainly a lowball estimate).

  12. “San José’s planned $100M “Breeze of Innovation”, a pretentious and obscenely prodigal palace of pretty perpindicular piping and pompous paean to parasitic plutocrat promoters who’d politically prefer that the proletariat peasantry’s gaze is purposefully panned away from a burgeoning population of poverty stricken people subsisting in squalid little shanty shacks along a nearby fetid open sewer otherwise known as the Guadalupe River Park and Trail…”

    In other words, it is profligate nonsense! I could list a million other existing local projects or causes that could very much use an infusion of $100M. This proposed “Breeze of Innovation” silliness must be stopped!

  13. While the proponents of this “landmark” may be well meaning, I’ll go along with Christopher Elliman. I’d rather see funds directed to 100 or 1000 local artists and creators. And it is not so clear that we should forever cede the proposed site to this project especially for a design that may have human safety and unknown long term maintenance issues, environmental affects, etc. In other words, if there is some reasonable probability that we will be looking at an abandoned structure in a decade or two, it is not worth the risk. We invested in the Children’s Carousel, which I think was a great SJ asset, and then abandoned it. In NY, they thought they had the next great tourist attraction, the Vessel (which has some parallels to this project), and now it’s closed indefinitely – but at least that is on private property as far as I know. The City of SJ should think twice before assuming all the complexities and risks of having this project on City/public land. If it is privately funded, then maybe it should find private land as a home.

  14. I would rather raise money to demolish that abomination down town that looks like a literal pile of feces. Its probably a good thing that I don’t live in Santa Monica or I would have defaced his remains with a large pile of excrement.

    I doubt that this will get built but at least it doesn’t look too bad reminds me of how they depict fiber optic cables. Would rather the money go somewhere more constructive but people that give money to this are probably not giving money else where or not going to increase it just because they are not giving it to this.

    Plus it is true that San Jose has been in dire need of iconic architecture and monuments.

  15. I wonder if the city will have built eventually, at a huge overrun, a giant boom lift with an attachment at the end for a giant comb-like apparatus to use to periodically lift from ground level up all the trash in the area blown into the structure by the wind.

    That’s combing the junk out of the city’s giant new hair, to be blown elsewhere.

  16. The city should begin by returning to its Big Fresno roots, which is what the city, essentially downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods, still is, one already in better shape than Fresno itself, and work from there, making more changes as if contemporary developments had some to Fresno itself, and build atop that.

    Divest outlying neighborhoods to go unincorporated and thus independent, if not choosing to be annexed by neighboring cities instead, to cut costs if needed, before that already becomes a real possibility when the retiree pension and health care and other retirement benefit costs rise.

    The one Grand Vision adding to that will never happening, relocating the state capital to the Downtown West – Diridon Station Area – Google village zone, with or without Google actually developing there. (Perfect for state gov lobbying, if so)

  17. “privately funded and built”

    Like Cal HSR, but completely private. Okay.

    If the city gets moving, it could hope to get some “infrastructure” money to pay for it from the feds, along with any additional “COVID-19 relief” money, before or after the pandemic ends. (Unless it goes into the city coffers, partly to shore up pensions, then pay and future pensions boosted again.)

  18. Very cool. Do it! We need a big spot downtown. However, not sure there’s enough space there for crowds? Very close to the road… What would be cool is a pedestrian bridge over santa Clara right at that spot.

  19. >SJ KULAK

    >I was born in Cocoa Beach!!!

    You seem to have good memories of it. Wife and I want to move there. It just seems like there’s not much crime there, great schools and not a lot of nightlife to attract lowlifes. It’s appealing to have a dock in the backyard for a sailboat, and watch the SLS launches.

    Just wondering, is it this way because most of the people there are educated or in the military?

    Oddly enough while looking at this article and your reply, the project in this story will cost the city $100m, which coincidentally is the same amount it would cost to house every homeless person in $10k mobile homes in FL and other spots in the south.

  20. Mr. Cortese,

    Well I think I must qualify, I would categorize my feelings toward Cocoa more as nostalgia then good memories. Florida and the late 70s->80s peg the meter on the nostalgia scale, and that was my primordial soup. Certainly Cocoa rated very high in family lore compared to the many other places we lived. I would say half the family stories are set in Cocoa somehow and we probably lived there 6-8 years.

    I have not been to Cocoa in 30 years, and Florida changes a lot, all the time. I went to college in East Orlando, which at least then, you could say was “working class”, but I think most would use a different qualifier. Driving to Cocoa on the weekend felt like dropping down 1 or 2 socioeconomic rungs on the ladder. Jimmy Buffet meets Coal Miners Daughter imagery. And really I can’t explain why because I really wasn’t thinking about it much, I went with my girlfriends or my Frat brothers. But wedged between the Cape and an AFB probably had something to do with the culture there.

    I’m looking now at the detached homes and it looks like they start around $500K for what’s available. I think you are looking at a post-gentrified Cocoa these days.

    The place locals always talked about retiring to in Florida was Naples. I think if you do move to Florida, you may want to rent or long stay in a couple places on the West Coast and north of Jupiter, before you lock into a place. Florida is a full blast state, but they dial it down a bit on the west coast. I would steer clear of Jacksonville, Orlando and South Florida. If you are a country boy at heart, check out Okeechobee and North of Clearwater. But the climate in Florida is pretty brutal, the humidity is daunting. Gotta get your mind right on that.

    On the coast, everything revolves around the beach, I mean everything. If you go inland a bit, hunting, fishing, lake watersports, boats lotsa boats – and they use them, etc. are plentiful and people are a bit more balanced. You may hear complaints from Floridians, but I haven’t seen many people leave once they move there. My sisters been talking about moving for 40 years, my parents think she’s crazy.

    Good luck to you and your wife!

  21. Mr. Cortese,

    Sorry to bug you, but I think its important. As much as I have good things to say of Florida, I would say it is the low-life capital of the earth, strictly on numbers, across all low-life spectrums: pervs, losers, meth heads, drug dealers, petty thieves, home invaders, litigious lawyers, death wish drivers. It is a full blast state in all regards.

  22. One last thought…

    138 Bimini Rd, Cocoa Beach, FL 32931

    Bimini is a nice name for a road…

  23. Or a giant face that morphs between Zuckerberg, Bezos, and Xi Jinping as it moves around the screen gobbling up humanity like some sinister PacMan.

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