TransAmerica Pyramid

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The moment the Transamerica Pyramid’s construction was completed in 1972, the skyscraper’s unique silhouette instantly made it an iconic San Francisco landmark. Before its completion, however, many people were opposed to the construction of the tower.

Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco
Transamerica Pyramid
Façade of the Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco
The façade

When the plans for the new headquarters of the Transamerica Company were unveiled in 1969, many of San Francisco’s citizens opposed the construction of the proposed office building. Most people claimed that the futuristic pyramid-shaped skyscraper wouldn’t fit in the city of San Francisco, which is better known for its picturesque wooden Victorian houses than for its skyscrapers.

Pyramid Shape

According to the architect, William L. Pereira, the pyramid is the ideal shape for skyscrapers, offering the practical advantage of letting more air and light in the adjacent streets. The building would, he thought, be a statement of architectural sculpture. In the end, he turned out right. Not only does it have the appearance of a modern sculpted monument, but if you look at the Transamerica Pyramid now, it also seems as if it was made to be built in San Francisco.

From an economical point of view, a pyramid is not an efficient structure in terms of surface. The upper floors are very small and since there is a minimum of space needed for elevators, emergency stairs and so on, the percentage of useable space is very low. This is basically the main reason such a shape is rarely used.

However, the unique shape was used, so the architect could get around the strict building laws that imposed a certain ratio between the building’s surface and its height. Thanks to its pyramid shape, the tower was allowed to be much taller than if it had a conventional design.

The Building

The Transamerica Pyramid was finished in 1972 and, having a height of 260 meters (853 ft.), towers over the rest of the city. It has 48 floors with a 64 meter (210 ft.) tall spire on top, covered with aluminum panels. The building owes its sparkling white color to the layer of crushed quartz that covers the rest of the building.

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