Tishman Speyer has formally filed their application to move forward with the development of two modern towers stretching across seven Central SoMa parcels (including those currently occupied by The Creamery, HD Buttercup, The Iron Cactus, United Barbell, TwentyThree and Waterfall) and rising up to 420 feet in height on the northeast corner of 4th and Townsend.

From the project team with respect to the proposed development and Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) design:

Each [of the two structures] would be made up of a podium and two tower segments, one 50’ taller in height than the other. Unlike a typical building, where each floor is the same square footage, these buildings would have large ground floors and each subsequent floor would be slightly smaller than the floor below it until approximately half way up the building when all floors become uniform in size. This design creates a cantilevered affect allowing for private terraces on the lower portions of each building.

Further, cantilevered floors are placed in such a way as to allow for the two tower segments to operate as separate structures until the eighth floor where they connect as one building. The two towers would be placed on the site as essentially mirror images of each other. This design will give the impression of four distinct buildings.

Building 1, on the west side of the project site, would feature a podium and tower structure. The 400’ tower would have 39 floors of residential units and step at the 35th floor to 350’ height. The ground floor of the building would feature one level of devisable retail space and a residential lobby facing a landscaped central plaza. The tower and building portions would be separated at this level by an approximately 28-foot-wide public walkway leading from 4th Street into the central plaza.

Above the ground floor of the podium, the first eight floors would step towards Tower 1, until the structures join on the ninth floor. The podium façade facing Townsend Street would step back 8’ after the first floor and then in incrementally smaller steps every floor until it reaches a 103’ setback at 220’ high. At this point, the building would rise as a flush vertical façade. The podium façade facing 4th Street would incorporate a smaller incremental setback of 2’ per floor after the first floor, until reaching a 15’ total setback at a height of 85’ feet.

Tower 1, on the northwest corner of the project site would be set back approximately 50 feet from 4th Street, to allow for a landscaped street-level plaza. The floors of Tower 1 would cantilever away from 4th Street by 5.5’ and then by incrementally smaller steps on each floor. At 85’ in height, the building would reach a 20’ setback, at which point it would rise as a flush vertical façade.

Building 2 would be also be split into a tower and podium structure, which would front Townsend Street and the adjacent properties to the east of the project site. The tower and podium would be essentially mirror images of Building 1. An approximately 28’ wide walkway would separate the tower and podium at the ground level, leading from the central plaza to the eastern edge of the site. The 400’ tower would have 39 floors of residential units and step at the 34th floor to 350’ height. The ground floor would feature devisable retail space and a residential lobby.

Similar to Tower 1, the first eight floors [of Tower 2] would angle towards the podium structure and join on level 9. The podium would be set back 80’ from Townsend Street to allow room for a vehicular ramp accessing belowgrade parking along Townsend Street. Unlike the other building, this podium structure would start to step back 12’ at 78’ high. Incremental step backs would continue until the building reached a total 128’ setback at 270’ high, at which point it would rise as a vertical façade. The tower would cantilever towards the neighboring property on Townsend Street by the same dimensions as the tower on Building 1.

Access to the development’s four residential lobbies would be provided through an inner publicly-accessible courtyard and plaza which would be ringed with retail as well.

And in total, the proposed 655 4th Street project would yield 907 market rate condos (a mix of 184 studios, 353 one-bedrooms, 309 twos, 46 threes and 15 lofts) over 27,000 square feet of new retail space and a garage for 450 cars and 316 bikes.

We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

75 thoughts on “Plans for a Pair of Swoopy SoMa Towers Revealed”
  1. Well, not sure on this one. It is probably moot as the Central SOMA plan will likely be modified as there is strong opposition to increased heights. Forget 15 stories – these would be 39 stories. Totally out of place. No need to expand the high-rise zone.

    That said, it’s an interesting design – I took it for 4 buildings until I read otherwise in the article. The setbacks are interesting – decks are fine though seldom used in SF so that would be an ancillary benefit. Setting tower 1 back 50 feet (resulting in a 25 foot increase in sidewalk width) should be a requisite for any major new Central SOMA project. Turning sidewalks into plazas with room for landscaping, benches and water features should be a given. Add in a central plaza with 28 foot walkway (larger than the width of the sidewalks in this area) and one gets real open space at the street level and accessible to pedestrians. Again, this should be the model for future projects in the area in terms of ground level open space and engagement.

    The flat tops, given the curved structures, could be better thought out and why not green space for residents at the top of the two towers? There would be nice views in this part of town as there will be no towers built around it – given even the current Central SOMA plan.

    Design-wise this is a rare case where some thought was put into a new SF project and attention paid to detail – including open space. Kudos to the design team.

    1. “Interesting”…if you like freak-architecture that is: setbacks not big enough for sensible terraces (or any other practical use), off-center cores, run-off and drip falling onto the plazas…. I wonder how much extra expense is introduced by these Daliesque designs, and how the people who gripe endlessly about all the cost – allegedly – introduced into building by “unnecessary” regulations feel about it.

      1. Daliesque designs as you call this are being done in many cities. Off center cores are the nature of the beast and it does not seem to be stopping other cities from thinking and designing “out of the box”. It’d be a shame if SF is forever consigned to remain in (as in stuck with) unimaginative boxy designs that are a sad hallmark of SF from the Sunset to MB.

        1. Cities – or the people in them, really – do lot’s of thing’s…good, bad and indifferent; but as momma told you … hopefully: “If everyone jumps off an architectural cliff, are you going to join them??” You’re free to leap, of course…there’ll just be more room on the mesa for the rest of us.

          1. And, San Francisco does leap straight off the cliff with following the sad trend of putting up boring box after boring box, usually in some sad sack shade of beige. If it were not for the hills, you would not be able to tell San Francisco from Tampa or Indianapolis if you only looked at most of the buildings put up within the last 30 years or so.

            For the most part, the only really attractive buildings were put up in the 1920’s or earlier (at least those that have been well-maintained), along with a few high-rises from the 1960’s like the Eichler designed 999 Green Street. But, many of these buildings could not be built today under the current zoning rules.

            So, perhaps San Francisco needs to get knocked a little off-kilter and try something different like this proposed project. Even if it were not 100% successful, it would be a hell of a lot better than yet another boring beige box.

          2. we currently have the most boring architecture of any international urban destination. mission bay is a total boring disaster and we had a blank slate to work from. we need interesting

          3. Yep. Indianapolis is better. Sad to say.

            “Modern” architecture here in SF is usually is all about consensus and boring. The quality hey-days of SF of the Crown Zellerbach Building , BOA, or Transamerica pyramid have long passed. Now we have ‘nice’. As in – “isn’t that nice – it wouldn’t offend anybody ever “(because it’s beige boxiness is underwhelming in blandness.)

            We used to do brilliant – now we do “good”. The ascending torch is passed to another City like Dubai or Shanghai…

      2. Very few terrace balconies get used in San Francisco. All the units in my building have terrace balconies and they are small, but not the “Juliet” balconies that are completely impractical. You can put a few pieces of outdoor furniture and plants out on them (and we do), and even a small grill (we don’t because they are unpleasant spaces). But, no one in my building, including myself, ever sets foot on them (aside from periodically wiping down the unused furniture and watering the plants).

        The balconies are usually cold and windy, you hear all the loud and unpleasant noise from the traffic going by the building (it is a busy city street, not a highway), and the black soot that collects after even just a week demonstrates how unhealthy the air is to breath. Our building even has a much more pleasant rooftop deck, and that also goes largely unused except for the handful of times during the year someone hosts a BBQ or the 4th of July has a clear enough sky to actually see the fireworks.

        Balconies in San Francisco are largely a waste of space–I would have loved to have had a slightly larger room with a bay window! And, rooftop decks look nice, but they are usually not used enough to warrant the expense of their construction and ongoing maintenance.

        As for the plazas, beyond having some open space, which I agree with, what else do you really need? How often would anyone hang out in a plaza at 4th and Townsend, even the residents of the building? All these spaces show happy people milling about in the architectural drawings, but in real life, they go virtually unused. City parks get used and so do a few downtown plazas that make good lunch spots, but for the most part city plazas and open spaces just sit there and look pretty (or not), and I think that’s all they really need to do.

        So, let’s look at the actual design of the building: At least it is not a boring beige box like every other boring beige box that gets built in San Francisco. No one wants to offend anyone and every developer tries to appease every neighborhood special interest, and the end result is you get the sort of banal contemporary architecture you see today scattered throughout the city.

        And, yes, some of the city building regulations are truly unnecessary. Safety and health regulations are necessary–all other regulations are not (they may be desirable, but they are not necessary). And, since many of these unnecessary regulations are focused at creating an interesting and attractive built environment, you can also argue they are not only unnecessary but also a total failure of achieving their intended purpose.

        1. The balconies, used or not, are ancillary to the curved facades. The facades make this building unique and a potential landmark whether they keep the balconies or eliminate them. I disagree about plazas. In Portland, Seattle and LA they are generally packed with people. Not as much in SF but that is likely due to other systemic issues unique to SF. This location would likely be used given the heavy foot traffic and the design which will allow a good bit of sunlight into the plaza. The short podium should further enhance the street life and avoid the citadel effect of the Lumina and other buildings which sit atop 5 story podiums cut off from everything. One Oak is the most egregious example of this – its podium will be 10 stories.

          1. I agree with Dave that the plazas in Seattle and Portland are generally packed with people. People sleeping, people shooting up, people day drinking, etc. Portland in particular can be proud of the fact that it has beaten SF at one thing: attracting the homeless.

          2. balconies are used in many building in SF. although i think we should stop building new plazas until we can curtail the homeless issue. the homeless issue is the reason we can have nice public spaces that people use

        2. ARE there even any balconies? I don’t see any railings – tho this being a vanity project they’d likely be glass – and given the parabolic shape of the setback(s) what starts out as a generous ~8ft feet in the lower floors quickly degenerates into 1-2 feet a few floors above that…of course that’s enough to let one’s wet shoes become – if not dry – than at least aired-out.

        3. Recently opened Proper Hotel has a beautiful outdoor rooftop bar and its really pleasant even at night with the help of some heaters..

        4. But maybe we should let the developers bring to market what they’d like to sell. You may prefer a larger room, but people pay more for a unit with a balcony.

        5. Maybe you don’t live in SOMA, but balconies here are quite nice during the day time as long as it’s not windy. SOMA is pretty warm compared to a lot of other parts of SF. We use ours all of the time.

          1. Ledges ledges ledges = leaks leaks leaks
            There is a reason high rise are plumb & straight.
            A pat on the back for attempting to design something interesting.

          2. i live in the inner richmond and use my roofdeck at least 270 days a year. its sunny most of the time here and my deck is shielded from the wind. not sure why people wouldnt use balaconies and roofdecks. i also think SF has the best weather in the bay area, so maybe im just unique. nothing nicer to me than 65 degress

    2. Right there with you on the design points, but rather than “out of place” there’s no better place to start building higher. With the new T on this street, multiple high-rises and Caltrain two blocks away, this will increase return on infrastructure and provide much-needed housing.

    3. The design is a nice departure from the generic box design that is so common in San Francisco — I am surprised that some many people have a negative reaction to it.

    4. 40 floors is mid-rise not high rise. its totally appropriate for this are. this is core of a major city. walkable, great transport, near financial and tech center. theres nowhere more appropriate for this. the central soma plan will be approved. what we need to work on next is being able to get 15 floors building in Western Soma. downtwon at 45-70, central soma at 20-45 and western soma at 10-20

  2. “Totally out of place?”

    Except for the major regional transit hub across the street with the intersection of a regional commuter train and two separate city metro lines. Not to mention the 18-story behemoth from the Redevelopment era of Mission Bay on the south side of Townsend across the street. And three blocks away will be the 250 foot tall towers on the Giants parking lot. Done well, some height here seems totally appropriate.

  3. I like it. Something different than the “boxes”that have been built. Can’t wait until the Central SOMA plan is fully built out as planned.

  4. A fine example of the whimsical Escher school of architecture, this would be a welcome addition to the SoMa landscape.

  5. I live right in front of this and will look at it every day.


    I was quite worried they were going to build another mission bay style cubic lego block…accept it would be 400 ft tall. Very pleased to see some interesting architecture. Will definitely liven up the central soma skyline and make it look modern as opposed to…cheap modern.

  6. It’s different. Will be a landmark if built as designed. And since we certainly need the housing – hopefully the far too conservative SF style meisters will not hold this one up by their usual insisting on something more “appropriate”/ bland….

  7. I didn’t think there was enough land there to do this, especially with 450 parking spots they want to add. Do they already have rights to that land, which is currently occupied by several popular retail tenants?

    That said, I’d like to see this built. 907 condo units in a prime spot beside Caltrain and lots of other transit and businesses makes too much sense. Those units would probably house upwards of 2,000 residents.

  8. Definitely kudos for thinking more outside of the box than expected and much more welcoming than the original massings from a few years back. It could perhaps even become… iconic. I also dig the use of public space mixed with all of the reasonably scaled retail units (totally tired of 4000sf spaces that are too expensive to garner interest).

    Even if it doesn’t get built as is, the more of these relatively leftfield designs are submitted to the city the better chances of attracthing even more progressive proposals and ultimately approvals.

  9. The degradation of architecture continues. Iconic? never.

    Pandering to the Instagram generation? Yes. instant gratification, but quickly fading. Pure complete trash.

    1. “Iconic” was used sarcastically—with all of the rampant use on this site (and others) lately. I do, however, fail to see how this plays to the Insta-generation? In terms of degradation, I assume you’re referring to the supporters/critics more than the design itself?

  10. a_ twisty towers
    b_ sloped and staggered towers
    c_ where’s the DTX connection that was to be completed and support all the housing built, and being proposed?

    once again planning still is just packing in the sardines, while the infrastructure keeps lagging further and further behind. regardless of the designs, most will be un-obtainable by the majority….. and post an EQ, all will be deemed uninhabitable…. not really great planning…..

  11. No architect listed. Why? This design rests on the quality of the architect and the builder. It could easily be gimmicky and cheap. Or it could be innovative and exciting. Trinity Place was interesting, until it was value-engineered into mediocrity. I will reserve judgment until there is more information.

  12. There’s something that looks a little bit off to me about the underside of the swoop, but I can’t quite articulate it. Overall though, I agree that this is an interesting new look, that’s different, has some practicality and could be done well.

    If built, I’m curious how the balcony situation will work out. Balconies seem the most valuable on the high floors, and it’s true they’d have some open views. This seems more natural looking to me than just attaching balconies to the facades as many buildings do, but it yields a wide range of sizes (from barely-a-balcony to quite large).

    1. ^ This. The rendering (from an angle above) looks interesting, but I’m wondering whether those overhangs will seem looming and oppressive to a pedestrian on the street … There are a couple 1970s buildings in Boston with large overhangs like that, and they’ve always seemed odd and out-of-place to me. Also, is that central courtyard *ever* going to get sun – i.e., will anyone ever want to sit out there, in the cold shade?

      1. I think it will work out for the plaza. Certainly this is a major improvement over the original plans that had two boring Lumina style towers on top of 5/6 story podiums with narrow alleyways in between. The plaza will be helped by the small retail footprints which will surround it allowing for a nice variety of stores.

        That said, this is unlikely to see the light of day. There is a strong pushback on the Central SOMA plan and one big issue are these sites that are zoned too high. Better to cap the max height at 15 stories. Hopefully that happens.

        1. Pushback by current condo owners in the area not significant enough to overturn years of planning, city hall, and the momentum behind the “stack and pack” mentality methinks. Would like to see more reporting on the Central SoMa Plan pushback.

        2. I don’t think there is that great of a push back of the Central SOMA plan. Even ultra left wing Jane Kim supports the project.

          1. Jane Kim supports anything and everything that is placed in front of her….as long as the developer or sponsor donates to her campaign coffers.

  13. Right next to Caltrain, this is the perfect place for tall towers and these would be fantastic. I’m skeptical they will get built, but I hope they are.

  14. Yes! Build this…yesterday please! I dub these beauties the twin nuclear reactor bizarro melt up metamorphing towers. Shake up the boxy skyline a bit more.

    1. Good name – they shall be known as the TNRBMUM Towers. Think I like that name better than the design, but at least they aren’t cookie cutter buildings.

  15. Something swoopy – cool! Along w/ the Studio Gang building Tishman-Speyer is adding something to SF beyond neo-boring. TNRBMUM rolls right off my tongue, let’s do it.

    Balconies in this part of town are just dumb – you want them to face west for the sunset which is directly into the summer’s prevailing nuclear-force polar breeze. There’s exactly one in my building (which faces East) that AFAIK has been used zero times in 15+ years except to store beer.

  16. I want to see it built just to give people like “Dave” indigestion. I don’y personalty like freaky designs but unlike most San Franciscans, I don’t think my personal likes should matter. It’s the developer’s land and money — it should be his or her design.

    1. I disagree. That type of thinking would make for some really cheap architecture that would make a city ugly.

      That said, I think there’s a happy medium between what makes sense for developers and what the neighborhood can rationally ask for. I live right next to these SoMa towers and I couldn’t be happier with the design. If they built something that looked more bland and ‘Mission Bay’, then I would probably voice my disapproval.

  17. “That’s how burlesque was born
    So I uh, and I uh
    And I uh, uh, uh
    But I do it with a horn
    Once I was a schleppa
    Now I’m Miss Mazeppa
    With my revolution in dance
    You gotta have a gimmick
    If you wanna have a chance
    She can uh, she can uh
    She can uh, uh, uh
    They’ll never make her rich
    Me, I uh, and I uh
    And I uh, uh, uh
    But I do it with a switch
    I’m electrifying
    And I ain’t even trying
    I never had to sweat to get paid
    ‘Cause if you got a gimmick

  18. Design is nice but 35 floors there is insane. Even in Manhattan they try to have some setbacks between the buildings. Both 4th and Townsend are two lane streets that are totally plugged during a game. Just imagine the nightmare if there are 2000 additional residents.

    This would have been really nice if scaled down to half the size.

    [Editor’s Note: The two towers are actually 40 stories as proposed and rendered.]

    1. Well, if you’re gonna plop down 2000 more residents, let’s do it near Caltrain + 2 Muni lines, and 3 bus lines.

      Granted, it’s not close to BART, but anyone who really needs BART can hop on N, T, bikeshare or simply buy closer to Transbay/FiDi.

  19. amazing! please please build this right away, the height is good if not a little slight for this location. more of this please

  20. I give this city approximately a zero percent chance of approving such a bold design. Whatever comes of this will be watered down to the point where it engenders zero passion — either from supporters or detractors.

    I would love to be proven wrong.

  21. 907 units.
    450 cars
    316 bikes.

    Considering that it’s next door to the Caltrain and muni, as well as a reasonably pleasant stroll to the FiDi and the Ferrys…. This seems like a fantastic place to build upward.

    I shudder to think of the construction vs. Giants games vs. rush hour vs. commuters that will happen…. that intersection has already been a tangled mess for …2? years.

    I’d think that adding some bike parking at the expense of a few cars might be a really significant improvement– ridesharing and similar can compensate for not storing a car all day, but bike thievery is real, and it’s so easy to make indoor storage/parking.

    1. Well the TDM (transportation demand management) application says they are seeking a target reduction by 50% due to “a complete EE Application date of 11/16/2015” as per planning code sec 169.3(e). One would wonder if the legislature really intended projects in the Central SOMA area to meet a reduced point standard for transportation demand in an area where the plan has not yet been approved.

  22. The 4th Street corridor, Townsend, and all areas within this proposed Central S. Plan cannot sustain this many 200-400′ towers. I have recently witnessed several severe pedestrian injuries at the intersection Townsend/4th. It will be much worse adding 900 units on that parcel. The subway, once complete, will not alleviate traffic.

    God help us if these stories about opiate use on-the-job among contruction workers is even slightly accurate, we are in trouble.

    1. Pretty sure the more pedestrians there are the smaller risk of an accident to any single pedestrian, since at a certain point cars won’t even be able to drive through the intersection due to huge amounts of foot traffic that may also be jaywalking.

  23. What a cool concept! I love the unique design. SF has enough boring towers. I hope SF has the guts to approve this and we don’t water it down.

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