Sixty million. That's the anticipated population of California in 2050. And because the city of San Francisco is one of the most traffic-clogged states in the country today, it has embarked on an ambitious transit-oriented development (TOD) aimed at mitigating car congestion while transforming the city's skyline.

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA), a group formed in 2001 to redevelop the aging 1930s transit station located at Mission and 1st streets, put out an international call last year for architect-developer teams to design the city's Transbay neighborhood. The guidelines called for a transit center and tower with a million square feet of public and transit space—housing eight regional rail and bus systems as well as the future High Speed Rail System (which would whisk riders to Los Angeles in 2.5 hours). The competition also asked for a new neighborhood with offices, shops, parks, and 3,400 new homes.

On Aug. 6, three teams—Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (formerly Richard Rogers Partnership) and Forest City Enterprises with MacFarlane Partners; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Rockefeller Group Development Corp.; and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and Hines—presented their solutions to the city and a nine-member selection jury. Offering sustainable aspects from wind-powered turbines to LEED Platinum certification, each proposal also included a soaring tower that would rise well above the city's existing 550-foot height limit (the city has embarked on a feasibility study to assess whether the tower could reach as high as 1,200 feet).

Planners hope this will become the Grand Central of the West. “We want an iconic building,” says Maria Ayerdi, executive director of the TJPA and one of the jurors. “We're looking for a design that's inspiring, yet whose functional excellence is at a level that serves the public.”

The jury will select its final architect-developer team later this month, and construction is anticipated to begin in two years. In the meantime, the TOD designs are generating their own kind of traffic: When the initial concepts were posted to the TJPA's website (, the site crashed temporarily from the public's overwhelming response. “We had over 60 pages' worth of comments within the first few hours,” Ayerdi says.