The barge portion of the Google barge mystery is only half the story - when completed, the full package is envisioned to be an "unprecedented artistic structure," sporting a dozen or so gigantic sails, to be moored for a month at a time at sites around the bay.
Documents submitted to the Port of San Francisco show that the barge's creators have big plans for the bulky box now docked at Treasure Island.
When it's done, the barge's backers say, the 50-foot-tall, 250-foot-long structure made of recycled shipping containers will be flanked by sails "reminiscent of fish fins, which will remind visitors that they are on a seaworthy vessel."
"The structure will stand out," the team says, in what is probably an understatement.
By and Large LLC, which submitted the barge documents, refers to the vessel as a "studio" and "temporary technology exhibit space." It says its goal is to "drive visitation to the waterfront."
The barge's exhibit space, it says, will be for "local organizations to engage with guests and gain visibility in a unique way."
"We envisioned this space with community in mind," By and Large says, "a surprising environment that is accessible to all and inspires conversation about how everything is connected - shorebirds, me, you, the sea, the fog and much more." Exactly who is By and Large? That's a little unclear, but it's reported to be firmly connected to Google. Some have noted that it looks like a play on the word "barge."
Google has been largely closemouthed about its waterborne behemoth. After rumors circulated that it was going to be a showroom, a floating data center that could be used in the event of a natural disaster, or perhaps a big party boat, the company issued a statement Wednesday calling it an "interactive space where people can learn about new technology."
Asked to comment Thursday on the planning documents, which we obtained from the port under the Freedom of Information Act, Google officials sent us the same brief statement they issued a day before.
Whatever it is, the barge's backers expect it to draw 1,000 visitors a day as it sails from spot to spot around San Francisco Bay. Among the envisioned mooring sites are Piers 30-32 and other San Francisco docks, Fort Mason, Angel Island, Redwood City and Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond.
The idea is to stay at each spot for a month. Eventually, the barge would sail off to San Diego and other West Coast ports.
San Francisco Port spokeswoman Renee Dunn Martin said the pitch, which By and Large submitted in September, was "part of a preliminary proposal. They haven't come back to us with anything concrete." Talks appear to have stalled over the glacial permit-approval process before the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
As for the sails - By and Large says that in addition to reminding people they're on a boat, they would "provide shade and shelter to guests." They would be lowered in bad weather. One artist's rendering submitted to the port appears to show the sails lit up at night.
"We believe this curious and visually stunning structure will be a welcome addition to the waterfront, an experience unlike any other," the proposal says.
The design was drawn up by a pair of internationally known architectural firms: the San Francisco outfit Gensler, whose projects include Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport, and LOT-EK of New York. And don't even think about taking any souvenirs off the barge. It would be equipped with 50-plus security cameras.
"The artistic structure combines innovative architecture with a bit of nautical whimsy," the proposal says, "creating a surprising environment that inspires conversation, community and 'a-ha' moments."
From the looks of things, it certainly will.