Transamerica Pyramid Building in San Francisco

A while ago I published a blog post about San Francisco's newest and soon-to-be-tallest building:

Though the Salesforce building dwarfs the Transamerica Pyramid in size, the Transamerica is still an iconic building that defines the skyline of San Francisco. When I walk from the Autodesk One Market office to our Pier 9 workshop, I get a glimpse of the Transamerica Pyramid.




Using Wikipedia as a resource, here is what I learned about the Transamerica Pyramid.



  • The Transamerica Pyramid is a late modernist building. Modernist architecture describes a group of styles of architecture that emerged in the first half of the 20th century based upon new technologies of construction, particularly the use of glass, steel, and reinforced concrete.

  • Designed by architect William Pereira, the pyramid faced opposition during planning and construction and was sometimes referred to by detractors as "Pereira's Prick."

  • The Transamerica building was commissioned by Transamerica CEO, John Beckett, and was built on the site of the historic Montgomery Block. The Montgomery Block was San Francisco's first fireproof and earthquake resistant building.

  • The land use and zoning restrictions for the parcel limited the number of square feet of office space that could be built upon the lot, which sits at the north boundary of the financial district. The original proposal was for a 1,150 ft building, which for a year would have been the second-tallest completed building in the world. The proposal was rejected by the city planning commission, saying it would interfere with views of San Francisco Bay from Nob Hill. Even with the limitations, at 853 ft, the Transamerica Pyramid was the tallest skyscraper west of Chicago from 1972 to 1974 surpassing the then Bank of America Center. On completion in 1972, it was the 8th tallest building in the world.

  • The building is a tall, four-sided pyramid with two "wings" to accommodate an elevator shaft on the east and a stairwell and a smoke tower on the west.


  • Construction started in 1969 and ended in 1972, and was overseen by San Francisco-based contractor Dinwiddie Construction (now Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company).

  • The top 212 feet of the building is the spire. A glass pyramid cap sits at the top and encloses a red aircraft warning light and a brighter seasonal beacon.

  • The top of the building is covered with aluminum panels. The building's façade is covered in crushed quartz, giving the building its light color.

  • The building has 3,678 windows.

  • The four-story base contains 16,000 cu yd of concrete and over 300 miles of steel rebar.

  • The building's foundation is 9 feet thick, the result of a 3-day, 24-hour continuous concrete pour. Several thousand dollars in quarters and change were thrown into the pit by observers surrounding the site at street level during the pouring, for good luck.

  • The hull of the whaling vessel, Niantic, an artifact of the 1849 California Gold Rush, lay almost beneath the foundation, and the location is marked by a historical plaque outside the building.


  • The building no longer houses the headquarters of the Transamerica Corporation, which moved its U.S. headquarters to Baltimore, Maryland, but it is still associated with the company and is depicted in the company's logo.


  • The building has 48 floors of retail and office space.

  • There are four cameras pointed in the four cardinal directions at the top of this spire forming a virtual observation deck. Four monitors in the lobby, whose direction and zoom can be controlled by visitors, display the cameras' views 24 hours a day.

  • An observation deck on the 27th floor was closed after the September 11, 2001 attacks and replaced by the virtual observation deck.

  • On Independence Day, the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and during the Christmas holiday season, a brightly twinkling beacon called the "Crown Jewel" is lit at the top of the pyramid.

It's nice that I get to stroll near a little bit of San Francisco history every day.

A pyramid is alive in the lab.