…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.