Caltrans District 7 Headquarters

by | 30. Jul 2012

Government | Offices | Project

Photo: arcspace



Photo courtesy Morphosis

Materials, forms, and exposed structural elements are referential to the work of Caltrans and evoke a feeling of the freeways.

The new Caltrans District 7 Headquarters covers an entire city block downtown Los Angeles, directly opposite City Hall, in the midst of an increasingly revivified area. The building is the first to be commissioned under the State of California’s Design Excellence Program.


Photo: arcspace

Roughly L-shaped in plan the building is composed of two main volumes. The 13 story larger volume stretches along the entire block between 1st and 2nd Streets and is set back 155 feet from Main Street. The smaller four story volume, extends from the larger volume to Main Street and occupies approximately one-half the length of the site, from mid-block to 2nd Street.

Enrobed in a constantly changing mechanical skin that is alternately open or closed depending on the conditions of outside temperature and sunlight, the building’s fundamental property is that of transformation.

At dusk the building is transparent, textured and windowed everywhere to invite the voyeur, while at mid-day it is buttoned up against the sun, appearing to be devoid of windows entirely.


Photo: arcspace

The building’s south facade is entirely surfaced with photovoltaic cells that will generate approximately 5% of the building’s energy while shielding the facade from direct sunlight during peak summer hours.

The facade along Main Street features an innovative double skin of glass behind perforated aluminum panels. The panels open and close mechanically timed with the movement of the sun and weather conditions, providing surface variety on the facade, shielding the interior from the sun and giving office workers changing views to the outside.


Photo: arcspace

The panels continue down to the courtyard where they form a canopy.


Photo: arcspace

Marking the entrance of the building at 100 South Main Street is a super-graphic, forward-canted sign towering 40 feet over the sidewalk. Comprised of layers of opacity and transparency, that break the confines of the vertical walls, the sign marks the building and the institution as an urban landmark.


Photo: arcspace

The design moves the lobby from the inside to the outside of the building, so that it becomes a plaza shared by employees, visitors and the general public. Pedestrian traffic on Main Street flows directly into this space. To engage street traffic, public amenities such as the exhibition gallery, large public art piece, retail stores and cafeteria are located around the outdoor lobby at ground level. A light well above the lobby cuts through the center of the building.


Photo courtesy Morphosis



Photo: arcspace

Integrated into all sides of the outdoor lobby, up to its full height of 4 stories, is a light installation by artist Keith Sonnier, titled Motordom. The work is integrated directly into the architecture of the four story outdoor lobby, filling it with half a mile of neon and argon tubes arranged in horizontal bands of red and blue light that mimic the ribbons of headlights on California’s freeways.

Further references to the California freeways are apparent in a large light-bar that extends out from the First Street side of the building to cantilever out over the street, and in a low yellow neon strip wraps around the northeast corner of the building at shoulder level.

The various cantilevers and extrusions are about movement, about an unrestrained exuberance that speaks directly to the car culture of Los Angeles and that serves to reinforce the raison d’être of Caltrans.


Photo: arcspace



Photo: arcspace



Site Plan courtesy Morphosis


Level 01 Plan courtesy Morphosis


Section looking west courtesy Morphosis

The Morphosis design carries the themes of openness, interplay and sustainability into the building’s interior. Elevators operate on a “skip-stop” basis, opening onto mini-lobbies located on every third floor: a scheme that speeds vertical circulation, establishes interim gathering places throughout the building and encourages those who can to use the stairs. Floor plans reverse the usual hierarchy of office space.

The design goes beyond merely providing functional spaces. It seeks in every way to engage people actively while blurring the distinction between outside and inside, so that this government bureau works as a truly public building.


CITY Los Angeles, California