Salesforce Tower: A Dozen Years In The Making

Silicon Valley, Salesforce Tower, Transamerica Tower, Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Transbay Terminal Redevelopment, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Hines, Magnusson Klemencic Associates,
By Kelsey Graeber and Sasha David


If a building could symbolize the power of Silicon Valley, the Salesforce Tower would be a good pick. Its silhouette rises above the San Francisco skyline like a monument to the rapidly growing tech industry, establishing its prominence over buildings like the Transamerica Tower – once the tallest structure in the city. Even its address, 415 Mission Street, is a tribute to the city’s area code.

Building the tallest occupiable building west of Chicago¹ at 1,070 feet is no easy feat: it took roughly 12 years of planning and construction. Why did it take so long to build, and how did it become the most expensive building in San Francisco? We use permit data from BuildZoom’s National Building Permit Repository to help tell the story of this iconic tower’s timeline from ideation in 2006 to completion in 2018.

Project Timeline
Ideation & Planning (2006-2013)
The Salesforce Tower, then known as the Transbay Tower, first came into ideation in the fall of 2006, when the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) held a competition to select the team that would design and develop the city’s first super-tall tower as a part of the Transbay Terminal Redevelopment.

A proposal by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and international development firm Hines was selected as the winner of the competition in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2013 – six years later – that the first building permit was issued.

Beginning in 2008, dozens of planning applications were submitted, analyzing everything from the building’s environmental impact to how the tower would cast a shadow on nearby parks and public spaces. Nothing like the Salesforce tower had ever been built in San Francisco; zoning laws previously restricted high-rise developments to 500 – 600 feet, but were recently changed around the Transit Center to reclassify parcels to allow much taller structures. The Salesforce Tower’s massive height of 1,070 feet presented new challenges that required considerable planning, simulations, and testing before construction could be approved.

One such challenge was to ensure seismic safety and adequate foundation support. Given the building’s massive weight and the area’s poor soil strata comprised of fill, sand, and clay, it was indispensable that the foundation be socketed in the bedrock approximately 250 feet underground. After deliberating between different foundation systems, the project’s structural engineer Magnusson Klemencic Associates decided on a foundation configuration of 42 Load Bearing Elements (LBE)² interconnected by a thick mat foundation which would help the building withstand extreme seismic demands.

Another reason for the long planning process was because TJPA required proof that the tower’s interactions with other structures would not impact the new Transit Center as a condition of the Salesforce Tower site purchase agreement. A highly complex and unprecedented Structure-Soil-Structure Interaction (SSSI) analysis was conducted to ensure there would not be any negative interaction given multiple seismic motion scenarios.³

Construction (2013-2018)
After years of planning and rigorous testing, the project’s first building permit was issued in September of 2013. The $336.2 million permit took more than 6 months to be reviewed, and at the time was the largest permit to ever be issued in San Francisco.³ The permit’s impact fees were also significant. A memo states “$8,373,933.90 will be due at First Construction Document … the remaining $47,452,292.10 will be paid at the end of the project plus the 2.39% surcharge,” bringing its total to over $55 million.

Two permits for excavation and shoring were issued in May and August of 2014 for $15 million and $10 million respectively, and the last stage of the foundation system was completed on November 8, 2015. It took 1,300 mixing trucks to deliver 12,000 cubic yards of concrete over 18 hours to form a 14-foot mat slab.5 Given some of the LBEs were installed at depths of 310 feet, it may not come as a surprise that it took as long to build the foundation as the core and shell; at one point the the building rose at a rate of 2 floors per week.

A topping-out ceremony took place in April of 2017, and tenant build-outs began in the summer of 2017. Though the Salesforce tower was originally slated to open in Q2 of 2017, its official opening date was delayed to 2018.

Between September 2013 and January 10, 2018, more than 130 permits have been filed for the Class A office tower with a combined estimated job valuation of `. This brings the estimated cost of the 1.35 million square-foot building to $330 per square foot to date, and we can expect this number to increase as more permits for tenant improvements continue to be filed.

As the anchor tenant to the building, Salesforce itself will be occupying floors 3-30, 39-44, and the top two floors 60 and 61. To date, nearly four dozen permits describe tenant improvements to a floor leased to Salesforce with a total estimated job valuation of $43.5 million. According to permits filed last year, several levels are having the “floor slab” demolished to accommodate a series of “interconnecting stairs” between levels 4 through 6, 7 through 9, 10 through 12, 13 through 15, 16 through 18, and the top two floors.

If you would like the full list of permits filed for the Salesforce Tower, please contact us at Please note that job valuations are generated for the purpose of issuing permits before construction and represent a lower-bound estimate of the materials and construction labor.

The Future of San Francisco and Tech
For San Francisco, the Salesforce Tower is unprecedented in many ways. It’s the first super-tall (over 984 ft) structure, the most expensive in the city’s history, and the first tall building to use LBEs in its foundation.

But its significance extends beyond the physical structure. For decades, the nucleus of the tech industry has been in the South Bay’s Silicon Valley, where tech behemoths Google, Apple, and Facebook established their sprawling, billion-plus dollar headquarters. Today, the Salesforce Tower serves as a beacon that marks a new center for the booming tech industry, one that is enmeshed with the fabric of urban life, right in the heart of downtown San Francisco.

¹. The Wilshire Grand in Los Angeles has a height of 934 feet to its highest occupiable floor, which excludes its 295-foot spire.
². Also known as barrettes, LBEs are rectangular elements that are implanted in deep foundations to support significant loads.
³. Salesforce Tower,
4. This record was more recently replaced by a $780 million and $539 million permit filed for the Warrior’s new Chase Arena in 2017 and 2016, and the $520 million permit for the Oceanwide Center filed in 2014.

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