August 18, 2007

changing skin

I've written before on my favorite building in Los Angeles, designed by Thomas Mayne's architecture firm Morphosis. When I was in San Francisco for the All-Star Game, their new Federal Building opened - we didn't get a chance to check it out up close then, so I got my friend Russ to take me by there when I was up in SF this week. Its hard not to compare the buildings because they have so many similarities. The San Francisco building is a great example of openness mixed with security. Morphosis has found ways to make the security features blend in, so those giant cement pylons you see around a lot of government buildings aren't there - instead, they double as seats, benches, walls - and other security support structures fit in naturally with the building. True to many Morphosis buildings, the skin changes and adjusts for the light of day and temperature, giving occupants an open and airy space that even opens to allow natural breezes through the building, as well as a building that literally lives and changes throughout the day. On top of all that, the Federal Building uses half the energy of a standard office tower. The one place I found disappointing in the San Francisco Federal Building was the open plaza. I'm guessing (and hoping?) that it may just not be done yet. There is a cafe in one corner, which will encourage public interaction with the space, but the plaza itself is nothing but a flat brown barren square of dirt. Compared to the multi-leveled and excitingly vibrant space outside the Los Angeles building, the plaza in SF just falls flat. Even with that huge downfall (that again, in fairness, may just not be done yet), its an exciting and dramatic building that adds to the rich architectural fabric of San Francisco. As mentioned in the below New York Times architecture review, this building is the latest product of the General Services Administration's Design Excellence program, created more than a decade ago as a remedy to the traditionally awful government buildings of recent history. Edward Feiner, the agency's chief architect, left the agency in 2005, so there many are nervous that this could be the last of a return to great government architecture. If so, its a fitting finale, but lets hope it turns out to be just a beginning of more to come.
  • jbd blog previous posts on the Los Angeles Morphosis building

  • New York Times: More Openness in Government (Offices, That Is)
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