Photo Essays

San Francisco’s New Transit Center Features Public Art by Jenny Holzer, Julie Chang, and Ned Kahn

A new transit center filled with on-site public art opens in San Francisco.

Salesforce Transit Center
Salesforce Transit Center (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco’s new transit center, branded the Salesforce Transit Center, opens August 11 after the former Transbay Terminal was closed in 2010. In the middle of the city’s downtown, the center will serve as a hub for several municipal and private bus agencies, and eventually the regional commuter rail line and future high speed rail line. It is anticipated that 100,000 passengers will pass through the four-story, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects-designed center each day.

Julie Chang discussing "The Secret Garden" (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
Julie Chang discussing “The Secret Garden”
Julie Chang, "The Secret Garden"
Julie Chang, “The Secret Garden”
Julie Chang, "The Secret Garden"
Julie Chang, “The Secret Garden”

With their lobbying efforts beginning in 2006, the San Francisco Arts Commission convinced the intergovernmental agency developing the center to commit $4.75 million to on-site public art. Ranging from designed floors to interactive fountains, this funding supported work by James Carpenter, Julie Chang, Jenny Holzer, and Ned Kahn. These works are in addition to Jim Campbell’s “Day for Night,” a recently unveiled LED video piece covering the top 130 feet of neighboring Salesforce Tower, which is the second tallest building west of the Mississippi.

Salesforce Tower Grand Hall atrium
Salesforce Tower Grand Hall atrium

From street level, passengers enter the transit center’s Grand Hall, a nearly 20,000-square-foot, sun-filled (weather permitting) lobby. The hall’s terrazzo floor was designed by San Francisco-based artist Julie Chang and is a lively collection of California flora and fauna, including poppies and hummingbirds. Named “The Secret Garden,” Chang envisions this place as creating a refuge-like environment for passengers “where they can just be for even the moment.” Also located on the ground floor will be James Carpenter’s currently unfinished “Parallel Light Fields,” a light sculpture that lines a pedestrian passageway.

Jenny Holzer, "White Light"
Jenny Holzer, “White Light”
Jenny Holzer, "White Light"
Jenny Holzer, “White Light”

For her contribution, Jenny Holzer’s “White Light” is a 182-foot-long LED screen that wraps around a glass enclosure within the Grand Hall. The screen displays text from 42 writers (and counting), including Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, Machine Gun Kelly, Harvey Milk, Chimako Tada, and others. The lengths of individual texts range from 45 seconds to two hours. Jill Manton, the city’s Director of Public Art Trust and Special Initiatives, said during a recent event that there are a significant number of texts about fog, which is fitting both for its association with the city and because the piece is best viewed with low-light.

Salesforce Transit Center rooftop park
Salesforce Transit Center rooftop park

A large 5.4-acre rooftop park runs the entire 1,400-foot length of the transit center. Here, along with Ned Kahn’s “Bus Jet Fountain,” is an amphitheater, a small jungle gym, a restaurant, and several gardens from various ecosystems. Kahn’s 1,000-foot-long fountain is fed real time information about bus movements from the bus deck below, replicating that movement with traveling jets of water. Though this piece is driven by the movement of vehicles, there’s a direct connection to the artist’s long-held interest in visualizing natural flow patterns.

Ned Kahn, "Bus Jet Fountain"
Ned Kahn, “Bus Jet Fountain”
Ned Kahn, "Bus Jet Fountain"
Ned Kahn, “Bus Jet Fountain”

Of the four public artworks integrated into the transit center, Manton has said, “I think that commuters will actually not be that bothered if their train or bus is a little delayed.” All the commissioned pieces are works of art that can require time and patience to fully experience. It remains to be seen whether passengers will look towards their transit center as a refuge from daily life or if they’ll take advantage of transit delays to slow down and enjoy the art.

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