The tablet map on the ground at 853 ft on Wildcat Canyon. Photo by Andrea Valencia

It was 2009 and from his Berkeley art studio Miguel Arzabe had an amazing view of the pyramid-shaped Transamerica Building. He wondered what the view from the top of Northern California’s tallest building was like.

He went to the building and asked to take a look. Not possible, the guard told him. After 9/11, the top floor of the Transamerica Building had been closed to the public. It was used as a conference room by banking executives. The space with the best view in the city was the backdrop to meetings of bankers during the 2008 recession – a time when many people were losing their homes.

Arzabe wanted the public to have access. It took him four months to locate six spots with an unobstructed sightline at the same elevation as the top of the pyramid –853 feet. Arzabe located and hiked to each site with a telescope, a GPS, a tripod and a camera in hand.

The combined six sightlines provide the same view as the one from that coveted conference room – except the way to the top differs. At each site, a thin concrete tablet etched out as a map and camouflaged to blend in with the wilderness marks a spot that you would see sitting in the conference room. Instead of looking at the spot, you are experiencing it. On Monday morning, that meant in Berkeley’s Wildcat Canyon. I could see the tip of the pyramid, but a layer of fog covered the bay.

To make the tablets, Arzabe used cartography software to get the vector contours of the topography and then he used a laser cutter to cut out the desired shape into a medium-density fibreboard.

He covered the board with multiple layers of latex and put plaster and fiberglass on top of it to create a solid mold for the tablet.

You can take several site visits this week, but you can also visit the Storefront Lab at 337 Shotwell St., until October 19th where Arzabe has set up a video projection of the viewfinder that shows the pyramid’s apex.

One of the drawings from the map tablets with dirt from the soil where it was placed. Photo courtesy of Miguel Arzabe.

Taking the elevator up to the top would be too easy. Instead, sign up for the excursion element of Arzabe’s Sightlines installation on display at the Storefront Lab and you will join a small group that Arzabe takes to Wildcat Canyon.

The 45-minute hike is done in silence and you are given a white envelope to be opened at the top. Inside the envelope (spoiler alert) a viewfinder allows you to study the sightline. Let your curiosity wander and you will see the map-like tablet.

With these tablets, Arzabe is not trying to connect the dots for the participant but rather let naturally curious people come across something they want to know more about. “It’s about leaving the city in the time that is the most productive time, and doing something unproductive; taking distance from the world and doing ‘work’,” he said.

Here’s your opportunity:

Friday October 10, 9AM – 1PM

Monday October 13, 9AM – 1PM

Saturday October 18, 9AM – 1PM

Get in touch with Arzabe at

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Andrea hails from Mexico City and lives in the Mission where she works as a community interpreter. She has been involved with Mission Local since 2009 working as a translator and reporter.

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