Building the Models of Our Civic Sustainability
Architecture is a confluence of cultural, political, and ethical decisions that occurs in an estuary of broad societal currents; thus, ever-changing, it encompasses the aesthetic, the tectonic, and the functional, the urban and the global–and now the sustainable. The San Francisco Federal Building offers a frank, contemporary response to its context, but more importantly it establishes a benchmark for sustainable design in its use of natural energy sources. During the design process, we learned that the same decisions that maximize energy efficiency could also help create a high-quality workspace that redefines bureaucratic culture. The building physically democratizes the workplace as it enhances health and comfort and empowers its users with a sense of control over their surroundings.
…without an active sidewalk life, without the frequent, serendipitous interactions of many people, ‘there is no public acquaintanceship, no foundation of public trust, no cross connections with the necessary people – and no practice or ease in applying the most ordinary techniques of public life at lowly levels.’
—Malcolm Gladwell on Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. From “Designs for Working” New Yorker December 11, 2000, pages 60–70.
Broadly understood, the project has developed around three primary objectives: the establishment of a benchmark for sustainable building design through the efficient use of natural energy sources; the redefinition of the culture of the workplace through office environments that boost workers’ health, productivity, and creativity; and the creation of an urban landmark that engages with the community.
A slender 18–story tower punctuates the skyline, and a public plaza and four–story annex connect to the scale and fabric of the city. The large, open plaza at the intersection of Mission and 7th is a valuable asset in the South-of-Market district, identified by the city as deficient in public space. The placement of the free standing cafeteria pavilion and the public nature of the facilities housed within the tower’s lower levels (including a conference center, fitness center, and daycare center for both local residents and employees) enliven the urban plaza with a steady stream of visitors.
A dramatic example of sustainable design principles, the San Francisco Federal Building’s shape and orientation maximize natural airflow for cooling and ventilation, and take advantage of natural daylight for the majority of the office interior. These features, combined with a number of other energy-saving elements, significantly reduce overall energy consumption compared to conventional commercial office buildings in the United States.
Throughout the year, San Francisco’s design temperature ranges between 44 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The new San Francisco Federal Building takes advantage of the temperate climate 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.