United States Federal Building

October 14, 2007 /

San Francisco, California, USA

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.

federal_building_2.jpgPhoto: 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

Facts about United States Federal Building

Site area:

91,000 ft2
Building area: 605,000 ft2



Thom Mayne

Project Manager:

Tim Christ

Project Architect:

Brandon Welling

Project Team:

Linda Chung
Ben Damron
Simon Demeuse
Marty Doscher
Rolando Mendoza
Eui-Sung Yi

Project Assistants:

Caroline Barat
Gerald Bodziak
Crister Cantrell
Delphine Clemenson
Todd Curley
Alasdair Dixon
Haseb Faqirzada
Chris Fenton
Arthur de Ganay
Dwoyne Keith
Sohith Perera
Kristine Solberg
Natalia Traverso Caruana

Executive Architect:
Smith Group, San Francisco

Project Manager:

Carl Christiansen

Project Architect:

Jon Gherga

Project Assistant:

Belinda Wong


Ove Arup and Partners

Project Manager:

Steve Carter

Structural Engineers:

Bruce Gibbons
Steve Ratchye

Mechanical Engineer:

Erin Mcconahey

Natural Ventilation Modeling:

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Landscape architect:

Richard Haag Associates Inc. with J.J.R

Civil Engineer:

Brian Kangas Foulk



Lighting Consultant:

Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, Inc.


Thorburn Associates

Vertical Transportation:

Hesselberg, Keessee & Associates, Inc.

Construction Manager:

Hunt Construction Group

General contractor:

Dick Corporation/Morganti General Contractors

Collaborative Artists:
James Turrell
Ed Ruscha
Rupert Garcia
Hung Liu
Raymond Saunders
William Wiley



Last updated: December 19, 2013

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