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Culture & People
 
 
 

Architecture

Because the downtown area is in the flight path to nearby Mineta San Jose International Airport, there is a permanent height limit for all buildings.The height limit is dictated by Federal Aviation Administration guidelines known as advisory circulars. The height limit is driven by the distance from the runway and a slope defined by the FAA in the previously mentioned guidelines. Core downtown buildings are limited to approximately 300 feet (91 m) but can get taller the farther from the airport. There has been broad criticism over the past few decades of the city's architecture. Citizens have complained that San Jose is lacking in aesthetically pleasing architectural styles. Blame for this lack of architectural "beauty" can be assigned to the re-development of the downtown area from the 1950s onward, in which whole blocks of historic commercial and residential structures were demolished. Exceptions to this include the Downtown Historic District, the De Anza Hotel, and the Hotel Sainte Claire, all of which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places for their architectural significance.

Municipal building projects have experimented more with architectural styles than have most private enterprises. The Children's Discovery Museum, Tech Museum of Innovation, and the San Jose Repertory Theater building have experimented with bold colours and unusual exteriors. The new City Hall, designed by Richard Meier & Partners opened in 2005 and is a notable addition to the growing collection of municipal building projects.

Visual Arts

Public art is an evolving attraction in the city. The city was one of the first to adopt a public art ordinance at 2% of capital improvement building project budgets, and the results of this commitment are beginning to have an impact on the visual landscape of the city. There are a considerable number of public art projects throughout the downtown area, and a growing collection in the newer civic locations in neighbourhoods including libraries, parks and fire stations. Of particular note, the Mineta Airport expansion is incorporating a program of Art & Technology into its development.

Within the early efforts at public art, there are notable controversies. Two examples include the statue of Quetzalcoatl in downtown which was controversial in its planning because some religious groups felt that it was pagan, and controversial in its implementation because many felt that the final statue by Robert Graham did not closely resemble a winged serpent, and was more noted for its expense than its aesthetics. This has resulted in a common inside joke among locals, who insist it closely resembles a pile of feces.

The statue of Thomas Fallon also met strong resistance from those who felt that people like him were largely responsible for the decimation of early native populations and Chicano/Latino activists protested he captured San Jose by violent force in the Mexican-American war (1846) as well "repressed" historic documents of Fallon ordered the expulsion of most of the city's Californio (early Spanish or Mexican) residents. In October 1991 after protests in part of Columbus Day and Dia de la Raza celebrations, the Fallon statue plan was scrapped and the statue was stored in a warehouse in Oakland for more than a decade. The statue was returned to public display in 2002, albeit in a less conspicuous location: Pellier Park, a small triangular patched formed by the merge of West Julian and West St. James streets.

In 2001, the city sponsored SharkByte, an exhibit of decorated sharks, based on the mascot of the hockey team, the San Jose Sharks, and modelled after Chicago's display of decorated cows. Large models of sharks were decorated in a variety of clever, colorful, or creative ways by local artists and were then displayed for months at dozens of locations around the city. Many displays were removed early because of vandalism. After the exhibition, the sharks were auctioned off and the proceeds donated to charity. The sharks can still be found in their new owners' homes and businesses.

In 2006, Adobe Systems in commissioned an art installation titled San Jose Semaphore by Ben Rubin, which is located at the top of its headquarters building. Semaphore is composed of four LED discs which "rotate" to transmit a message. The content of the San Jose Semaphore’s message remained a mystery until it was deciphered in August 2007. The visual art installation is supplemented with an audio track, transmitted from the building on a low-power AM station. The audio track provides clues to decode the message being transmitted.


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