San Francisco Federal Building



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.

Posted: Feb 22nd, 2009 / Last Edited: Apr 19th, 2011 Print

Description

  • …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.


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  • …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.

    The re–definition of circulation and vertical movement paths provides opportunities for chance encounters, a critical mass in circulation, and places for employees to gather across the typical confines of cubicles, departments, or floor plates. The democratic layout locates open work areas at the building perimeter and private offices and conference spaces at the central cores. As Gladwell’s article points out, “…one study after another has demonstrated [that] the best ideas in any workplace arise out of casual contact among different groups within the same company.” Skip stop elevators, sky gardens, tea salons, large open stairs, flexible floor plans, and the elimination of corner offices endow the tower with a Jacobsian “sidewalk life” of cross-sectional interactions.

    Many of the same design decisions that create high quality workspace also maximize energy efficiency. The Federal Building is the first office tower in the U.S. to forgo air-conditioning in favor of natural ventilation. As a result of the tower’s narrow profile and strategic integration of structural, mechanical and electrical systems, the building provides natural ventilation to 70% of the work area in lieu of air conditioning, and affords natural light and operable windows to 90% of the workstations. A folded, perforated metal sunscreen shades the full-height glass window wall system and a mutable skin of computer–controlled panels adjusts to daily and seasonal climate fluctuations. With an energy performance that surpasses the GSA’s criteria by more than 50%, the project sets new standards for applications of passive climate control, while physically democratizing the workplace and enhancing employees’ health, comfort, and sense of control over their environment.


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Sustainability

  • 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.

    Climate Control

    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.


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  • 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.

    Climate Control

    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.

    Perforated metal building skin Skin detail Building skin with automated windows open Tower air circulation diagram


    A computerized system, known as the building automation 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. The window wall features manually operated windows for occupant control of the internal environment and includes a heating system integrated into the mullions. A minimal number of central, fully enclosed offices and meeting rooms are served by local, supplemental cooling units to accommodate higher density occupancies. 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.

    Wave forms passively cool day lit interiors

    In the tower, the design of the high-performance façades is critical to the functioning of the natural ventilation. At the southeast elevation, a perforated metal sunscreen protects the glass façade 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.

    South façade skin detail South and north façade juxtaposition North façade with sunshades North façade North façade detail


    Nationally, the GSA strives to use no more than 55,000 Btu of energy per square foot per year in its buildings. The new San Francisco Federal Building is expected to surpass the GSA’s target as well as California’s stringent Title 24 Energy Code. The naturally ventilated floors are projected to have an average energy consumption of less than 25,000 Btu per square foot per year, a significant improvement over the national standard.

    Electrical

    Lighting is typically the largest energy cost for an office building, representing up to 40 percent of a facility's total energy load. The new San Francisco Federal 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.

    Ambient light, the general illumination in an office, comes from sunlight channeled through the windows and reflected off walls and ceilings to extend its reach with minimum glare and intensity. With an average overall ceiling height in the tower of 13 feet, natural daylight will penetrate deep into work spaces. Powered lights are also provided to supplement the natural light. Through simple sensors, the building's automated systems manage the balance between powered and natural daylight. The powered lights are on only when people are at their workstations. Together, these approaches reduce energy used for lighting by approximately 26 percent.

    Daylit interior


    Building Materials

    The San Francisco Federal Building incorporates building materials and construction strategies that minimize waste and energy consumption. 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. The GSA mandated that 75 percent of materials used during construction be recycled. The project recycled 87 percent of its waste material. Carpet, paint and furniture were carefully considered with respect to the project's sustainable goals.

    Energy Usage Diagram Energy Savings Comparison Diagram High Tower Energy Consumption Diagram Energy Savings Diagram Reduction in Carbon Dioxide Emissions Diagram


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Details

Location:
90 7th Street, San Francisco, California, United States of America 94103
Client:
United States General Services Administration Region 9
Site Area:
2.1 acres / 0.8 hectares
Size:
605,000 gross sq ft / 56,205 gross sq m
Program:
Federal office building with offices for the Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, Department of State, Department of Labor, and the Department of Agriculture. Additional program includes a conference / community center, day care, fitness center, public sky lobby, public plaza, and café
Design:
2000 - 2003
Construction:
2003 - 2007
Type:
  • Governmental

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