San Francisco Federal Building

Migrated Image

Buildings used to be designed with the climate in mind with big opening windows to the exterior; shading and bris de soliel to the south; shallow working areas to maximize exposure to natural light. Mix the desire to build a green, efficient building with post 9/11 security and you have Thom Mayne's new San Francisco Federal Building. James Russell of Bloomberg says:

Mayne, principal of Santa Monica-based Morphosis, bracingly applies brute urban-industrial energy to his environmental agenda. The 3-foot-by-8-foot stainless-steel panels, which appear translucent, are supported in front of the all-glass building wall by a metal framework. Functionally, they shade the building from low winter sun, cutting daylight to a comfortable level for office workers.

That's just one of the ways the building cuts energy use. In total, it's designed to consume about half the power of a standard office tower -- an indication of how building design can help slash emissions of greenhouse gases.


Others have called it a Borg Cube, post-apocalyptic, `Very military-industrial complex''


More on green features from James Russell:

For all its architectural showmanship, the design painstakingly coordinates strategies that harvest sun and breezes to replace electric lighting and air-conditioning. The use of the metal panels came out of an emerging discipline called ``building physics,'' provided here by Ove Arup & Partners, a London-based international engineering giant.

Through a building-physics analysis, those panels were designed to retain accumulated solar heat as a thermal blanket over the building's facade. When that air warms, it floats upward, coaxing cooler air through the building via windows that open automatically when instructed by sensors. The result is free air-conditioning.

By carefully controlling unwanted glare on all sides, most people can work using the daylight from the floor-to-ceiling glass instead of electric lights. The north side has its own sunshade system, vertical milky-glass fins angled to protect occupants from late-afternoon summer sun.

Windows for All

With its ample daylight, soft breezes and gorgeous city views, the 575,000-square-foot federal building is a more pleasant place to work than today's sealed-up, tinted-glass buildings pumped full of refrigerated air. Even a worker in the ``worst'' seat, only about 25 feet from a window, can grab that precious daylight.


James Russell concludes:

While the federal building imports technologies and concepts developed in Europe more than a decade ago, it's revolutionary by U.S. standards -- and far ahead of the low-ambition ``greening'' prevalent in the private sector that touts bamboo flooring as an eco-credential. The G.S.A., Mayne and Arup have shown that U.S. buildings can set a much higher standard for workplace quality at considerably lower cost to the environment. ::Bloomberg


All pictures from San Francisco Chronicle, Kurt Rogers.