San Francisco Federal Building

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San Francisco Federal Building
San Francisco Federal Building (main structure, seen from Mission and 7th, 2020).jpg
Main structure of the federal building, with plaza in the foreground
San Francisco Federal Building is located in San Francisco
San Francisco Federal Building
Location within San Francisco
San Francisco Federal Building is located in California
San Francisco Federal Building
San Francisco Federal Building (California)
San Francisco Federal Building is located in the United States
San Francisco Federal Building
San Francisco Federal Building (the United States)
General information
TypeGovernment offices
Architectural styleDeconstructivism
Location90 Seventh Street
San Francisco, California
Coordinates37°46′45″N 122°24′43″W / 37.77917°N 122.41194°W / 37.77917; -122.41194Coordinates: 37°46′45″N 122°24′43″W / 37.77917°N 122.41194°W / 37.77917; -122.41194
Construction started2003
CostUS$144 million
Roof234 ft (71.3 m)
Technical details
Floor count18
Floor area605,000 sq ft (56,206 m2)
Design and construction
ArchitectThom Mayne of Morphosis
DeveloperU.S. General Services Administration
Main contractorHunt Construction Group
Webcor Builders

The San Francisco Federal Building is an 18-story, 234 ft-tall (71.3 m) building at 90 7th Street on the corner of Mission and 7th streets in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, California. The federal building was designed by the Morphosis architectural firm, as a supplement to the Phillip Burton Federal Building several blocks away. Thom Mayne of Morphosis designed the building using a juxtaposition of gray concrete walls, perforated metal panels, and custom, faceted wood ceilings.[5] The building was expected to be completed in 2005, but construction issues and delays pushed the project completion to 2007.

The building was designed to be a 'green' building consuming less than half the power of a standard office tower. Utilizing natural light to illuminate 80 percent of the building helped it achieve worldwide recognition as the first Federal Building to be certified under the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria.[6] Its southern wall is draped with translucent panels of perforated stainless steel (3 by 8 feet in size), intended to accumulate solar heat and thereby create an upward air flow, which in turn causes cooler air to enter the building through sensor-controlled windows, achieving an air conditioning effect.[7][8] The result has been criticized as unsatisfactory by employees working in the building, which has received low workplace satisfaction ratings.

The building features some elevators which stop on every third floor to promote employee interaction and health. Users of the building exit the elevators and walk either up or down one floor via stairs. There are, however, also elevators which stop on every floor for users unable or unwilling to negotiate stairs. As of 2019, there were concerns that the courtyard had become a large marketplace for illegal drugs at nighttime.[9]


The San Francisco Chronicle's architecture critic John King called the building "both daunting and dazzling, up to and including the stainless steel panels that fold over the broad concrete frame like some immense origami whim. Like it or not, this is architecture at its provocative best. The 18-story structure and its four-story annex show how buildings fit together. They demonstrate that simple materials can be used in fresh ways, and they prod you to think about how design and the environment are linked."[8] According to his colleague at the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Hawthorne, the building "shows what happens when a celebrated American architect is compelled [...] to embrace sustainability. And it dramatizes a clash between the prerogatives of architectural creativity and the basics of sustainable design".[10] He called the result a "hulking, aggressive tower [... and] perhaps the most ambitious of the federal government’s effort, through the General Services Administration’s 'design excellence' program, to make new courthouses and office buildings models of forward-looking design."[10]

The San Francisco Federal Building has been called an example of the "innovative public building projects that embrace contemporary design strategies and material approaches" that were enabled by the 1962 "Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture" directive.[11]

Detail of the building

The construction budget and cost for the building was $144 million.[10] The architect's decision to eliminate the usual HVAC system saved $11 million in construction costs.[12] At the same time, the design's nonfunctional use of extended, folded metal sunshading at ground level, which in the opinion of some are purely for aesthetic effect, and require extensive galvanized steel bracing, added millions in materials and fabrication costs back into the project.[10]

Morphosis' design was selected at least partly because of its projected energy efficiency; a requirement of the GSA's brief. At the time of design, the GSA did not mandate LEED certification, and the building was not evaluated for it until after construction; it failed. Mayne said "I wasn't arrogant, but I was confident — I just assumed we had the platinum (the highest LEED) rating. All of a sudden we went through LEED and it wasn't working." Ultimately, the building received only silver LEED qualifications; two steps below platinum.[13]

The building has been criticized as being dysfunctional for its employees. According to an employee interviewed by, "Workers seek to relieve the heat by opening windows, which not only sends papers flying, but, depending on their proximity to the opening, makes creating a stable temperature for all workers near impossible ... some employees must use umbrellas to keep the sun out of their cubicles."[13]

Mayne believed that the federal government should be a model in the promotion of worker health and exercise. This led Morphosis to specify passenger elevators that stop only at every third floor, requiring many employees and visitors to then walk up or down one or two flights of stairs to reach their destinations. There are also elevators for the disabled that stop at each floor, but it has become commonly used by the able-bodied as well, causing overcrowding.[13]

View of the entire building, consisting of the tall structure at right and the lower annex structure in the left foreground, which frame a plaza

Unlike most large government office buildings, the Federal Building does not have its own cafeteria inside the building. The cafeteria function was instead placed just outside the building on the public plaza, and was again due to the architect's belief that this would encourage employees to walk, interact, and increase worker health; a situation that seems to not be appreciated by some of the 2400 employees who work in the building.[13]

In 2010 the GSA commissioned a survey of employees in 22 federal buildings nationwide, to determine employee satisfaction with their workplaces. The San Francisco Federal Building was included in this study even though commissioning was still underway, and tenant improvements of some floors were not complete.[citation needed] The buildings included in the study scored between a low of 13 and a high of 98 percent employee satisfaction; seventeen of the 22 buildings scored above 50 percent employee satisfaction. While incorporating many green concepts more aggressively than other buildings, the lowest ranked building for employee satisfaction was the San Francisco Federal Building, with a rating of just 13 percent; the next-lowest was considered twice as satisfactory, at 26 percent. The San Francisco building scored well below the median in the categories of thermal comfort, lighting and acoustics.[14]


The San Francisco Federal Building won a Design Award from the AIA San Francisco chapter in 2008. The award praised the buildings open spaces and environmentally friendly design.[15]

The building earned LEED Silver certification from USGBC.[16]

In June 2012, the San Francisco Federal Building was named the International The Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) in the government category. GSA was recognized by the commercial real estate industry for quality in commercial buildings and excellence in building management and operations.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "San Francisco Federal Building". CTBUH Skyscraper Center.
  2. ^ San Francisco Federal Building at Emporis
  3. ^ "San Francisco Federal Building". SkyscraperPage.
  4. ^ San Francisco Federal Building at Structurae
  5. ^ "2006 Construction Excellence Awards". Interior Construction. March–April 2007. p. 9.
  6. ^ Leetzow, Larry. "A Model of Excellence: San Francisco's LEED-Certified Federal Building". Magnaray International.
  7. ^ Lloyd Alter (9 March 2007). "San Francisco Federal Building". TreeHugger. Retrieved 2020-02-08.
  8. ^ a b King, John (2007-02-25). "TOWERING EXPECTATIONS / S.F.'s new federal building challenges ideas of what a government high-rise should look like -- its humane design is green, dazzling". SFGate. Retrieved 2020-02-08.
  9. ^ Vacar, Tom (2019-11-08). "Popular hangout spot at San Francisco's Federal Building angering residents". KTVU. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d Christopher Hawthorne (21 March 2007). "Green clashes with design in S.F. tower". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  11. ^ "New executive order could make classical architecture "the preferred and default style" for America's public buildings". Archinect. Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  12. ^ "U.S. General Services Administration San Francisco Federal Building" (PDF). Rocky Mountain Institute. Retrieved 15 August 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ a b c d Randy Shaw (3 March 2008). "San Francisco's Green Building Nightmare". BeyondCron. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  14. ^ Kim M. Fowler; Emily M. Rauch; Jordan W. Henderson; Angela R. Kora (June 2010). "Re-assessing Green Building Performance" (PDF). Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Retrieved 15 August 2012. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ "Excellence in Architecture - Honor Award: San Francisco Federal Building". American Institute of Architects San Francisco. 2008. Archived from the original on 2011-06-28. Retrieved 15 August 2012.AIA 2008 San Francisco Design Awards
  16. ^ Dan Ashley (January 4, 2010). "Bay Area green buildings strive for LEED certification". ABC News. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  17. ^ Traci Madison (23 July 2012). "San Francisco Federal Building captures BOMA International TOBY Award". U.S. General Services Administration. Retrieved 15 August 2012.

External links[edit]