Transamerica Pyramid (San Francisco, California)

Transamerica Pyramid
Photo by Alyssa Black

Designed by architect William Pereira and built by the Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company, the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, California, is a 48-story, 853 foot tall postmodern architectural icon. As well as being an important element of the San Francisco skyline, the Transamerica Pyramid was upon its completion in 1972 the eighth-tallest building in the world. For more than 40 years (from 1972 to 2017) the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco. A title it held till the construction of Salesforce Tower in the South of Market district.

The construction and design of the now famous landmark faced a great deal of opposition when it was first presented to the public. The opposition was so extreme that the building was often referred to as “Pereira’s Prick”. Though it was once wildly hated by most of the city, it is now considered one of the best examples of postmodern architecture in the United States.

The original proposal was for a 1,150-foot (350 m) building, which would have been the second-tallest building in the world. The proposal was rejected outright by the city planning commission, because it would have interfered with views of the San Francisco Bay from Nob Hill. The strange shape of the finished pyramid is largely due to restrictive zoning regulations that limited the square footage of the building.

Prior to moving into the pyramid, Transamerica headquarters were just across the street in a flatiron-shaped building now occupied by the Church of Scientology of San Francisco. Though the Transamerica Pyramid has not been the headquarters for the Transamerica Corporation for a long time, the building will forever be linked to their past in San Francisco. The pyramid is in fact still featured on the company’s corporate logo.

The 9 foot (2.7 m) thick foundation is the result of a 72-hour continuous concrete pour, and contains 16,000 cubic yards of concrete and over 300 miles of steel rebar. Several thousand dollars in coins were reported to have been thrown into the pit by observers surrounding the site during the pour, for good luck of course.

Transamerica Pyramid Facts

  • The building no longer houses the headquarters of the Transamerica Corporation, which moved its U.S. headquarters to Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Construction of the tower began in 1969 and finished in 1972.
  • The light color of the building is thanks to the façade being covered in crushed quartz.
  • There are a total of 3,678 windows on the tower.
  • Only two of the building’s 18 elevators reach the top floor.
  • The two wings increase interior space at the upper levels. One extension is the top of elevator shafts while the other is a smoke evacuation tower for fire-fighting.
  • A glass pyramid cap sits at the top of the building and encloses red aircraft warning light.