Transamerica Pyramid

Transamerica Pyramid
  1. About the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco
    1. Prizes & Awards
  2. Architect and team
  3. Architectural style
  4. Spaces and uses
  5. Structure and materials

The Transamerica Pyramid is a Postmodernist skyscraper designed in 1968 by William L. Pereira and built between 1969 and 1972, for a reported $32.0 million dollars, in San Francisco, CA.

Its precise street address is 600 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA. You can also find it on the map here.

In 2022 the Transamerica Pyramid was awarded with the Silver WAN Awards for Best Commercial Future Project.

The pyramid-shaped building with four faces has two "wings". One on the east face to accommodate the elevator shaft and another on the west face for the staircase and smoke tower. It is crowned with a pyramidal spire covered with aluminum grids.

The building underwent a major restoration between 2020 and 2024. The architect commissioned to undertake this restoration was Foster + Partners.

Building's timeline

Design completed
Construction begins
Construction completed
years ago
  1. 2020 to 2024 - The Transamerica Pyramid Center consists of two additional buildings, Two Transamerica (505 Sansome Street) and Three Transamerica (545 Sansome Street), along with the central Redwood Park. The restoration carried out by Foster & Partners revitalizes the entire area, creating unity among all components through strategic ground-level interventions, while placing a sophisticated emphasis on the comfort, hospitality, and flexibility of the workspaces. The architect in charge was Foster + Partners.

Architect and team

William L. Pereira was the architecture firm in charge of the architectural design.

William L. Pereira was in charge of the architectural design, however, architecture is a complex discipline involving many professionals from different fields, without whom this building would have not been possible. We will surely be leaving out a lot of names here, but here is a list of the people we do know also played their part in making the Transamerica Pyramid a reality:

  • Chin & Hensolt Inc., Glumac International,and Simonson & Simonson in charge of Structural Engineering
  • Dinwiddie Construction Company as the Main Contractor
  • Otis Elevator Company as the company in charge of the elevators system
  • Transamerica Corporation as the Main Developer

Architectural Style

The Transamerica Pyramid can be categorized as a Postmodernist building.

Postmodernism in architecture emerged in the United States during the late 1960s as a reaction against the starkness of the International Style, which part of the new generation of architects argued was too impersonal, sterile, and disconnected from historical and cultural contexts.

Postmodernism challenged the International Style's austerity by reintroducing historical elements and ornamentation, although this time not as literally as in the Neo-Classic buildings. Instead, they reinterpreted them within the context of modern materials and construction techniques.

Postmodern buildings often feature bold, contrasting colors, unconventional forms, and a playful blend of various architectural elements from different eras and cultures.

In the United States, Postmodernism was not just an aesthetic choice but also a philosophical stance. It represented a democratization of design, where architects sought to create buildings that were accessible and meaningful to a broader range of people, not just designers and intellectuals.

The Transamerica Pyramid was completed in 1972. At that time Postmodernism was the prevailing style. Fresh, bold and daring, architects were exploring the freedom of designing without having to follow the strict, sometimes arbitrary rules of a specific architectural movement (which ironically became a movement itself). The Transamerica Pyramid was therefore every much in line with what the architecture community, and the people liked and wanted at the time.

Spaces & Uses

The Transamerica Pyramid reaches an architectural height of 853ft (260m), with the last accesible floor being 696ft (212m) off the gorund. It has a total of 48 floors, served by 18 elevators, which combined offer a total of 499,445 sqf (46,400m2) of usable space.

Ever since opening its doors to the public in 1972, the Transamerica Pyramid has mainly been used as Commercial space.

853ft (260m)
696ft (212m)

Materials & Structure

The Transamerica Pyramid uses a frame structure made of steel columns and concrete slabs.

A frame structure uses a combination of beams and columns to sustain the building's weight. The walls in this case are non-load bearing, which allows for more flexibility when distributing the interior spaces.

The facade is non-load bearing either, as it is common in frame structure type buildings.

The unique structural feature of this building is a tapered armor system over which the first floor of the four-sided pyramid rises.

In addition to the outer frames, four inner frames extend upward in each direction until the 17th floor, and then get reduced to two up until the 45th floor.

Starting at the 29th floor two triangular buttresses rise on the west and east sides of the tower. These external vertical extensions are both aesthetic and functional elements. They allow the top, smaller floorplans, to preserve their interior usable space by removing the vertical communications and technical installations from the main space. The eastern buttress supports the shaft, while the West embraces a stair shaft and exhaust outlet.

From an aesthetic point of view, the facade features a panelized system made of precast concrete panels. These panels are composed of white quartz aggregate, giving the facade its distinctive light color and textured appearance.