Home    Site Search   Contact Us     Subscribe



From the Treetops #1: Sacramento: Unheralded City of the Future?

Sacramento is on the cusp of something big, building the city's economy around innovation and creativity. But innovation is only worthwhile if put to use.

By Jason A. Silva, AIA, LEED AP
July 20, 2017

Editor’s note: This is the first in a new ANN series penned by Jason A. Silva, AIA, LEED AP, principal of Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture. The series title comes from a reference to Sacramento, California’s fame as one of the most tree-populated cities in the world.



With the distinction of being the capital of one of the world's largest economies, Sacramento, California, has recently received some curious bits of recognition, both good and questionable. For example, we are a city with the second most trees on the planet (according to Treepdia, a World Economic Forum/MIT study), but somehow, we have the second ugliest people in the country (after Baltimore; so says Travel + Leisure magazine). Despite such, Sacramento is charging ahead, and that’s why I’m writing this “From the Treetops” series. Over the last 40-something years, I've noticed the reserved and measured approach to growth in the city. Now we’re on the cusp of something big.


This year started off with the inauguration of Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a determined and broad-thinking individual intent on building the city’s economy around innovation and creativity. Now, that idea isn't new, it's just never been as solidly embraced from the top down. Several projects, on the boards for years, are now coming to light. Among these is the Powerhouse Science Center, the adaptive reuse of a historic PG&E power station into a premier science center. The project will anchor the northern section of the growing Sacramento Riverfront, a primary and widely underutilized amenity in the region.


Golden 1 Center (G1C) opened its doors at the end of 2016, bringing a major sports and entertainment complex to downtown. If there was a straw that broke the camel's back of mediocre growth potential, this was it. The race to grow began in earnest, and it isn't just for developers – the arts are thriving, too. For decades, Sacramento has had a strong, but quiet arts community. Now a major work by Jeff Koons at G1C is drawing attention from outside the region and, in turn, is encouraging more local art talent. Working as an artist and art-consulting architect, I've engaged with numerous large installations, but nothing like Bryan Valenzuela’s hanging installation inside G1C. Employing advanced 3D computational modeling from my firm, Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture, we built a model that allowed for structural complexity not thought possible previously. Innovations such as this are running wild, and the fact that we’re working across technology platforms and the subjective world of art is making us think differently.


But innovation is only worthwhile if put to use. In the absence of major corporate business (remember this is a state capital), Sacramento has witnessed a grassroots surge within the innovation community. From co-working to hacker spaces, the germination of ideas and creative talent is strong, and the results are proving what we’re testing. In 2014, I worked with a team of innovators from VSP Global, the vision insurance company, who were envisioning a lab/think-tank space called The Shop. In a former Mid-century Modern car showroom in midtown (designed by my firm in 1959), we created a completely flexible system of spaces allowing them to think, implement, test, and sometimes fail – “fail fast and fail often” is their motto. From their lab came ideas larger than our region. Jay Sales, the outspoken lead for The Shop, is driving an effort to utilize Sacramento as a research center for Autonomous Vehicles (AV). A perfect alignment presented itself, as legislators frequently travel from the Capitol Building to the airport, so why not have them use AVs to get there? The result? Autonomous Transportation Open Standards (ATOS) Lab, a test-bed for AV legislation and public adoption. My firm is exploring the infrastructure and architecture of the not-too-far-off world in which we no longer drive our own cars.


Bringing together arts innovators, Sacramento's culture has developed some serious global arts events. In 2016, an abandoned, red-tagged hotel became the site for Art Hotel, a temporary installation of more than 60 artists’ work. Painting, sculpture, and wall cuttings – all were happening in a four-story building in the middle of downtown. Before it was done, I devised a project, to make the temporary event continue temporarily after it was closed. My firm launched the Virtual Art Hotel website enabling thousands of users to fly through a 3D laser scan of the entire building, every room and every detail, thus experiencing the installations in a completely new form. It was online for 30 days, and then destroyed. One year later, Sacramento had ArtStreet. In a warehouse slated for demolition, I worked with artist partner Ginger Thompson on a massive suspended piece called “Section” that became the centerpiece of a gallery installation which included 100 artists. National and international artists also contributed to this festival. We are now planning for the possibility of ArtCity, a much bigger event.


Stay tuned; I’ll be writing more about Sacramento’s developments from forthcoming treetops.



Jason A. Silva, AIA, LEED AP, is a partner and design principal with Sacramento-based Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture. His work is predominantly performance driven, advanced by technologies in design and fabrication. Both a builder and an artist with public art commissions, Silva brings design and architecture into the public realm.



(click on pictures to enlarge)

Jason A. Silva

From the treetops of Sacramento

Rendering: Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture

Powerhouse Science Center Planetarium and Green Roof

Jason A. Silva

Golden 1 Center with “Coloring Book” sculpture by Jeff Koons

David Wakely

“Multitudes Converge” installation by Bryan Valenzuela in the Golden 1 Center

Chip Allen

The Shop at VSP Global innovation lab

Graphic: Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture, Map background: Stamen Design

Autonomous Vehicle Proposed Test Area

Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture

Virtual Art Hotel laser scan of Art Hotel

Art Gray

“Section” installation at Art Street by Jason A. Silva & Ginger S. Thompson