Caltrans District 7 Headquarters
Materials, forms, and exposed structural elements are
referential to the work of Caltrans and evoke a feeling of the
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Facts about Caltrans District 7 Headquarters
1.05 million gross ft2
Office building: 750,000 ft2
Underground parking garage: 300,000 ft2
Main & First Design/Build Associates, Inc.
The Clark Construction Group, Inc.
State of California
Department of General Services
Last updated: December 19, 2013
Burbank, California , USA