Top of the Town

We invited seven architecture firms from around the country to submit their best ideas for a new observation tower for the capital city, which would create an instant civic icon while giving us a chance to see our hometown from a whole new perspective. Let’s build one and take Sacramento to new heights.
The Innovation Tower on Capitol Mall by Field Architecture from Palo Alto



AECOM | San Francisco
Height: 1,000 feet
Estimated Cost: $85-$98 million

Architect Statement
Symbolic of California’s leadership in energy policy, conservation, research and innovation, this concept transcends the role of visual icon to become a high-performance extension of the region’s critical emergency operations system and resiliency plan: the two observation decks become the rallying point in the event of flood, fire or earthquake. Its strategic location marks the region’s intermodal transportation nexus and the path of the future high-speed rail.

The tower hosts two observation levels: one at 750 feet with commanding views of the Capitol and downtown, and sweeping views southward to the Delta and beyond; and one at 360 feet with panoramic views westward up and down the Sacramento River. Its base is an active mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented place, sharing a public plaza with the historic train depot on I Street.

Rendering courtesy of AECOM

Rendering courtesy of AECOM

The tower doubles as a rack for energy collection and storage with solar panels, solar hot water tubes, and wind turbines that leverage the northerly Delta breezes. It will generate power to offset the embodied energy required to build it, produce electricity to support all energy usage, and store energy for emergency power.

Intentionally asymmetrical and dynamic, the tower will reflect the shifting landscape of technology, economics and the environment, respecting the past and leaning into the future, grounded and evolving.


Studios Architecture | San Francisco
Height: 600 feet
Estimated Cost: $50-$75 million

Architect Statement
We envision the tower as a singular icon visible for miles as one approaches the state capital. Therefore it is essential that the tower rise above the skyline. The site is the vacant land immediately south of the Tower Bridge landing in West Sacramento. This location affords views up Capitol Mall and down to Raley Field, the river and the bridge. With an observation deck elevation of 600 feet, the snowcapped Sierras will beckon.

Rendering courtesy of Studios Architecture

Rendering courtesy of Studios Architecture

The tower’s composition is comprised of three elements: two leaning towers that spring from opposite sides of a 600-foot-diameter circular earthen mound topped by a spiraling pedestrian path. Visitors approach the entrance from the western parking area through a gap created by the emerging berm. As one crosses the bowl toward the elevator lobby, the surrounding city view becomes occluded, with the formidable presence of the two towers directly overhead.

The two leaning towers are steel structures, one an open truss up which the elevators climb, and the other a tapered shaft clad in light-colored enameled metal panels enclosing the egress stairs. The glass elevators—actually a type of steep funicular—provide dramatic, changing views as one rises to the intersection of the two towers.

The Beacon

Stantec | Sacramento
Height: 700 feet
Estimated Cost: $75 million

Architect Statement
The city of Sacramento is a beacon for California and the country as the home of our state government, an incubator for innovation and America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. Our vision is to brand the city’s skyline with a visual representation of that status. The design inspiration for The Beacon is the California state flag, with the base of the structure shaped like a star and the points then twisting upward toward the sky until they meet at the pinnacle. The exterior is transparent glass, allowing for unique views into and across the internal space and reflecting the standard to which we hold our nearby Legislature.

The location for The Beacon has been strategically chosen to offer visibility to travelers through Sacramento on I-5 while also providing and encouraging connectivity between local landmarks like Old Sacramento, Capitol Mall and the Tower Bridge. The Beacon is also a functional piece of civic infrastructure, reflecting the uniquely entrepreneurial spirit of the city. The tower features a series of levels or “launch pads” between the base and top observation level that would serve as flexible spaces for everything from art exhibits and community gatherings to private events.

Innovation Tower

Field Architecture | Palo Alto
Height: 200 feet
Estimated Cost: $25-$30 million

Architect Statement
We positioned this iconic observation tower strategically at the west end of Capitol Mall. It functions as an experiential visitors’ center with information both about the city and the state of California, while simultaneously transporting the visitor along an exciting “pathway in the sky” with magnificent vistas of the expansive landscape, the sweep of the Sacramento River, Old Sacramento and Capitol Mall below. It is designed as a destination landmark that can be immediately implemented. Creating a new model of public/private partnership, the city donates the land and private enterprise funds the tower, reinforcing Capitol Mall as a civic event destination and central gathering place, while creating a lasting physical architectural icon. [This design was originally created for the 2011 Catalyst: Capitol Mall Design Competition, with updates made for this submission.]

Prospect Tower

!melk | New York
Height: 440 feet
Estimated Cost: $90 million

Architect Statement
This design is a vertical park with a height of 440 feet. The tower comprises four “park” observation decks ranging from 52 feet to 392 feet tall, each offering unique experiences and distinct views. The lower decks frame the town’s historic features such as Old Sacramento and the Capitol, while higher decks offer expansive views of urban and agricultural areas, and reveal the junction of the American and Sacramento rivers.

The main gathering areas near each elevator bay offer amenities such as cafes, gift shops and a small science center. The planting design of each “park” reflects the particular elevations where the flora can be found in the wild.

The tower also features an innovative superstructure that allows the decks to be cantilevered from a cascading central core. The entire structure is wrapped in a mesh that has structural properties, acting as a diaphragm to assist in the seismic resiliency of the tower. It also collects water for irrigation by capturing dew on its surface and channeling rainwater to underground cisterns.

The tower itself integrates power generation from wind and solar sources. And through sustainability technologies, the integrated science center will spread awareness about environmental issues specific to the Sacramento region.

River Towers

Jason A. Silva at Dreyfuss & Blackford | Sacramento
Height: 72 feet
Estimated Cost: $1.5-$2 million

Architect Statement
Known for its dense tree canopy and shady streets, Sacramento is one of a kind and we know it. But with the overhanging leafy branches comes a compromise—a limited spacial awareness, an obscured horizon. What if you could see over it all? The River Towers project seeks to open up the horizon to the public along our best natural resources—the rivers.

Aligned with prominent streets and connecting with the city’s bike trails, the towers rise up behind the levees, affording the public safe access to the changing river environment, while protecting the natural habitat. A series of the towers, built over time, create visual and spacial connectivity for the public. Inside looking out, observers can see the broad region and their relationship to the other nodes, while those on the ground can use the towers as landmarks, guiding residents and visitors to experience Sacramento’s most prominent natural features.

The Spire and the Canopy

Pb2 Architecture & Engineering | Arkansas
Height: 440 feet
Estimated Cost: $38-$58 million

Architect Statement
The idea of the “urban canopy” became the genesis for the design of The Canopy, an elevated public space floating through the center of Capitol Mall and terminating with an observation tower. By their very nature, trees create space whether by themselves or in groupings. The shape-making capabilities, form and strength of three particular trees—the weeping willow, the oak, and the giant sequoia—laid the groundwork for three design elements. The sinuous drooping canopy of the weeping willow invokes a shape that allows for open versatile spaces beneath, the massive rooting of the oak grounds The Canopy, and the majesty of the giant sequoia tree creates a sense of permanence.

It was this permanence and majesty that inspired The Spire. Like tree houses that children like to climb and explore, The Spire draws people upward, elevating them above the chaos found at street level. Observation terraces placed along the trunk present moments of respite and opportunities to experience the Sacramento River and capital city in ways that are different from those at street level. The Spire is topped with a restaurant/observation platform that serves as a gathering place for the community. [This design was originally created for the 2011 Catalyst: Capitol Mall Design Competition.]
What do you think? We want to hear from you. Email us at