May 5, 2018 - Op-Ed: San Jose A Step Closer To Building Iconic Light Tower

By Thomas Wohlmut, Steve Borkenhagen, and Jon Ball

May 5, 2018 // The San Jose Light Tower Corporation recently won official approval to move forward with plans to design and construct an artistically inspired and iconic structure downtown as a gift to the Capital of Silicon Valley. 

In 1881, an impressive 237-foot tall electric light tower was constructed in downtown San Jose, spanning the intersection of Santa Clara and Market Streets. It was recently discovered that the Eiffel Tower, designed by ETH Zurich graduate Maurice Koechlin and built in 1889, was inspired in part by this original tower.

Now, the San Jose Light Tower Corporation, a local nonprofit organization, is leading the effort to build a new, world-class, distinctive structure in San Jose that would use cutting-edge architecture and technology to recognize the region’s history while inspiring future generations with a state-of-the-art design. Through this endorsement by the city council, that vision is now closer to becoming a reality.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services and the Office of Economic Development/Office of Cultural Affairs are approved to guide the San Jose Light Tower Corporation as they perform site selection, discuss possible amenities, and implement fundraising strategies in support of this vision. This will also be done with special regard given to scale and context within the current urban fabric of the downtown to ensure a harmonious and aesthetic result.

The actual design for the new tower is undetermined and a worldwide competition to identify the ultimate design is still to be announced. As part of the effort to build a new tower, graduating students at ETH Zurich in Switzerland (considered one of the world's most prestigious universities in science and technology) were tasked with designing a possible new, artistic structure for San Jose.

In September 2017, students Nando Truffer, Coralie Taccoz, and Matthias Fischer came to California to present something special, a striking light tower design combining art and architecture, which immediately gained attention.

So striking that as part of an international collaboration, students from San Jose State University’s Engineering Department—Markanthony Rivera, Gabriel Orozco, Nicolas Macken, Scott Locascio, Christopher Kennedy, and Daniel Gu—utilized this design to construct a 3-foot tall, scale-model replica of the light tower, complete with individually-adjustable LEDs, programmable lighting, and a turntable.

The replica is on display at the Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose through mid-May when it will be moved to the lobby of the San Jose branch of Steinberg Hart, an award-winning architecture, urban planning, and interior design firm.

“Bringing this project to life has been an incredible feat, and it couldn't have been done without the hard work and long days my team turned in,” SJSU student Markanthony Rivera says. “Being on the ground floor of a large project that will be the future icon of Silicon Valley has been inspiring. The implications it bears for the future are especially impressive when you consider the long history behind the San Jose Electric Light Tower.”

With the success of this international collaboration and the green light from the city of San Jose to move forward with design and construction plans, the San Jose Light Tower team is preparing to hold a worldwide design competition and estimates a four-year project development and construction cycle, with project completion in 2022.

This new light tower will be the largest gift ever given to the city.