Silicon Valley wants a landmark. What should it be?

The San Jose Light Tower once stood over the city in 1881, and was designed to illuminate the streets at night Image copyright History San Jose
Image caption The San Jose Light Tower once stood over the city in 1881, and was designed to illuminate the streets at night

If Paris has its Eiffel Tower, London its Big Ben and New York its Empire State. But what kind of landmark would best represent Silicon Valley?

That will be the decision of an 11-member jury in an upcoming competition that wants to determine how to pay homage to tech industry’s epicentre.

The winning design will (if all goes to plan) be built in a park in San Jose, the city which sits at the Valley’s foot. The non-profit organisation behind the idea should find out on Tuesday if it has the go-ahead to start planning.

It is hoped the project will be nearing completion by 2021.


These days, the New York Times notes, San Francisco has an arguably bigger global reputation for tech than San Jose, but that wasn’t always the case - and with this effort the city is looking to reclaim some of that acknowledgement.

There are some nods to tech’s history in the city already. Woz Way, named after the beloved Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, runs past one of the city’s parks and near the Children’s Discovery Museum. The Tech museum nearby is a magic exploration of how stuff works.

But in themselves they are not the kind of attraction that give people a reason to find the way to San Jose, argued Steve Borkenhagen, executive director for the project.

"It’s ironic that an area as wealthy as ours doesn’t have a public artistic icon,” he told the BBC.

"I think it just hasn’t been a priority. Generally our business leaders have their head down, creating interesting things that are changing the world.”

The landmark will be a gift, Mr Borkenhagen said, saying it will be funded entirely by donations raised by the San Jose Light Tower Corporation. The group is named after a once-iconic light structure that, on a clear night in 1881, could be seen in San Francisco some 50 miles away.

‘Not a hi-tech project'

That doesn’t mean the new landmark will necessarily be a tower, however.

"We are not a hi-tech project, even though we are a part of a hi-tech community,” Mr Borkenhagen said.

"We’re not asking for the most recent LED lightbulb. We're looking to build something enduring."

Image copyright Google
Image caption The new landmark is, pending city approval, to be built here on Arena Green

So what exactly will it be? Twitter, naturally, has a few… ideas.

"A freeway lined with Apollonian statues of tyrannical but business casual CEOs, watched over by an electronic eye of Sauron,” suggested one.

“Can it be titled Hubris?” asked another.

San Jose Light Tower Corporation said it chose to open it up to competition both as a way of raising the profile of the fundraising effort, but also to perhaps nurture some design talent from a previously untapped source. The project draws inspiration from Maya Lin, the 21-year-old architecture student who in 1981 won a competition to design Washington DC’s memorial to commemorate those who died in the Vietnam War.

That said, the group would rather you did not call the upcoming project a monument - as that typically means something that pays respects to the dead*.

‘Be open minded'

Personally, I have doubts about designing by committee, and relying on personal and corporate donations to get it built. That way may lie an inoffensive, safe effort, one made possible, inevitably, “by our friends at Google”.

And some may wonder, in a city where the proliferation of high-paying tech jobs has led to rapidly-rising housing costs, whether that amount of money can’t be better spent on something more beneficial to those who are struggling.

But I should hold back that view until we see the finalists, I guess. A good idea could bring many benefits to what is, most would agree, a rather bland-looking city.

"We ask people to be open minded,” said Christine Davis, one of the project's other leaders.

"We want to be among that list of iconic places, a landmark that’s befitting of this great community."


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* Perhaps a monument to privacy, in that case?

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