March 14, 2019 - Silicon Valley Just Got the Green Light to Build a Monument to Itself. What Should It Be?

Caroline Goldstein

What would a monument to the Silicon Valley look like? Thanks to the San Jose City Council, we will soon find out. On March 12, the body approved a proposal to build a landmark that would help define the city, akin to the Space Needle in Seattle or the Washington Monument.

Now comes the fun part. An international design competition for the commission will be unveiled this spring, and the winning entry could be erected as soon as 2021.

Just how, exactly, will designers illustrate the ethos of the one percent-led tech world? Perhaps a hoodie-wearing tech-bro memorialized in bronze? An enormous marble slab engraved with a complex privacy policy in extremely tiny font? A massive rainbow pinwheel of death on the scale of Chicago’s Cloud Gate?

The monument is the brainchild of Jon Ball, a former construction executive who came up with the idea when he was driving on a local highway with his wife, who noted that she never would have known she was in San Jose just by looking out the window at the low-slung office parks.

For the tech world, which isn’t even as concentrated in San Jose as it was in the days of literal silicon-chip development, this effort is also a stunt to boost tourism and win back out-of-towners who skip straight to San Francisco or Oakland. (San Jose seems to have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to its charming and distinctive neighbor to the north. A New York Times report recounted a recent community meeting where one man “spoke eloquently about how when friends came to visit, they immediately wanted to go to San Francisco.”)

The San Jose Light Tower Corporation, a nonprofit organization, is spearheading the project, which will be privately funded and has already raised around $1 million. (No tax money will be involved, according to organizers.) The monument will be erected on the Guadalupe River Park at Arena Green following an international design competition.

As a condition for approving the plan, the city council required that Light Tower expand the jury tasked with judging the competition to include more local residents, upping the total from seven people to 11. According to a spokesperson from the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services in San Jose, the jury will now include two representatives from an environmental group; one from the City of San Jose; a community representative from a neighborhood nearby; someone from the San Jose Light Tower Corporation; an internationally recognized artist; either a local or internationally renowned architect; a “placemaking expert”; and a renowned community design expert.

The council also requested a timeline to chart community involvement through the key stages of the plan in an effort to increase transparency.