United States Federal Building

by | 31. Jul 2012

Feature | Government | Sustainable

Photo: Nic Lehoux


The new Federal Building, a slender 65-feet-wide tower rising 18 stories (240 feet), is located along the northern edge of the Mission and Seventh Street site.

A four-story building annex adjoins the tower at the western edge of the site, helping to define the space that constitutes a new public plaza.

In addition to this active plaza, the facility includes a number of resources that are available for public use, including a café, a childcare center, and a conference center.


Photo: Nic Lehoux


Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux


When architecture engages social, cultural, political, and ethical currents, it has the potential to transform the way we see the world and our place in it. It is from this intersection of broad societal currents that we approached the design for the new Federal Building in San Francisco. Our primary interest was to produce a performance-driven building that would fundamentally transform its urban surroundings, the nature of the workplace, and the experiences of the people who use it while making intelligent use of natural resources.

For me, this project represents the epitome of an optimistic architecture; an architecture that synthesizes its complex forces and realities into a coherent whole.

/Thom Mayne

Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux


The building takes advantage of the temperate climate in San Francisco to provide a comfortable interior environment while reducing energy consumption.
As a whole, the building is best understood as a hybrid that includes different space conditioning strategies appropriate for different locations in the building.

The first five levels, with high concentrations of people and equipment, are fully air-conditioned. Above the fifth floor, the windows automatically adjust, allowing fresh air directly into the building for natural ventilation and free cooling. The window system creates a “living skin” that allows the building to breathe. Breezes pass through openings on the windward side and are vented out through the leeward wall, with control based on wind speed and direction.


Photo: Nic Lehoux


A computerized system, known as the building automated system (BAS), controls and monitors all of the building’s mechanical equipment including those devices that are used to maintain internal environmental conditions and lighting levels. On the naturally ventilated floors, the computer system opens and closes windows, vents and sunscreens in response to temperature within the building as well as external environmental conditions.

In the tower, the design of the high-performance facades is critical to the functioning of the natural ventilation. At the southeast elevation, a perforated metal sunscreen protects the glass facade from excess solar heat gain; at the northwest elevation, a series of fixed translucent sunshades are attached to an exterior catwalk, breaking the sun’s path to shade the glass. These climate specific facades give the building its distinctive appearance.


Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux


During the night, the BAS opens the windows to flush out heat build-up and allows the nighttime air to cool the building’s concrete interior. Throughout the day the thermal mass of the exposed concrete columns, shear walls and wave-form ceilings help cool the occupants of the building.

Several features support federal initiatives to promote health and improve productivity: the location of the cafeteria on street level across the plaza and the use of skip-stop elevators that stop at every third floor, opening onto soaring lobbies with wide, open stairs promote cardiovascular fitness and reduce lost work hours.


Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux


These lobbies and stairs, in addition to a sky garden and a 90-foot high entry lobby at street level, provide a comfortable setting for informal meetings and social interaction. A handicap accessible elevator that travels to every floor is also available.


Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux



Photo: Nic Lehoux


The tower’s high ceilings and glass facades provide 85 percent of the building’s tenants with views overlooking the city.

The outer perimeter of the tower is configured with open offices and 52-inch-high workstation partitions, maximizing access to natural light. Fritted glass panels that enclose meeting rooms and offices located in the middle “spine” of the tower, provide both privacy and access to natural light.


Photo: Nic Lehoux


The building’s lighting strategies improve the workplace and are a critical facet of this project’s sustainable design. Approximately 85 percent of the workspace is illuminated with natural light.

The building minimizes pollution by replacing high proportions of Portland cement in its concrete foundations and frame. During the manufacturing process, Portland cement is associated with very high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In the Federal Building’s concrete mixture, 50% of the pollution-intensive Portland cement is replaced with blast furnace slag, a recycled waste product from the steel industry, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions resulting from conventional concrete. This environmentally sound choice also results in higher-strength concrete and has a warm, light-colored tone that contributes to the favorable daylight penetration within the office space.

Founded in 1949, GSA serves as a centralized procurement and property management agency for the federal government. As part of its commitment to sustainable living, the GSA works to reduce consumption of natural resources, minimize waste, and create a healthy and productive work environment for all tenants who occupy federal workspace.

The San Francisco Federal Building is a reflection of the GSA’s commitment to design excellence and sustainable architecture, incorporating state-of-the art technology and performance driven innovation.

The building won the first international Zumtobel Group Award for Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment.


Drawing courtesy Morphosis Program Diagram


Drawing courtesy Morphosis Basement Level Plan



Drawing courtesy Morphosis Level One Plan



Drawing courtesy Morphosis Typical Floor Plan Level Nine



Drawing courtesy Morphosis Longitudinal Section



Drawing courtesy Morphosis Cross Section



CITY San Francisco, California
ARCHITECT Brandon Welling
Jon Gherga
Smith Group
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Richard Haag Associates Inc. With J.J.R