SF's New Federal Building is Green and Safe, But Is It Good?

<p>Witold Rybczynski visits Thom Mayne's new Federal Building in downtown San Francisco. He finds a number of energy conservation innovations at play, but concludes that precious little else is playful or human about the architecture.</p>
July 25, 2008, 5am PDT | Tim Halbur
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"It's hard to miss San Francisco's new U.S. Federal Building, a narrow 18-story office slab with a skewed, not-quite-mansard roof. Completed in March of last year, the building is a study in contradictions: an ambitious energy-conserving agenda, a tight budget, and a highly restrictive set of security concerns. How did Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne deal with this challenging mix?

The first impression of the Federal Building, which is in the South of Market district, is somewhat intimidating. Its inscrutable facade is shrouded in a perforated-stainless-steel scrim, which is mysteriously sliced and peeled away, apparently at random. At the base of the building, the screen mutates into a folded roof that covers what appears to be a greenhouse but is actually a day care center. The imposing pavilion in the foreground, whose complicated roof resembles a trestle bridge, turns out to be a coffee shop. As often happens in a Mayne design, many things are not what they seem."

Thanks to John Swansburg

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Published on Wednesday, July 23, 2008 in Slate.com
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