United States Federal Buidling
90 7th Street

San Francisco

94103 California


Morphosis (Thom Mayne) 2007


“When architecture engages social, cultural, political and ethical currents, it has the potential to transform the way we see the world and our place in it. It is from this intersection of broad societal currents that we approached the design for the new Federal Building in San Francisco. Our primary interest was to produce a performance-driven building that would fundamentally transform its urban surroundings, the nature of the workplace and the experience of the people who use it while making intelligent use of natural resources. For me this project represents the epitome of an optimistic architecture; an architecture that synthesizes its complex forces and realities into a coherent whole”


Thom Mayne



The new San Francisco Federal Building is one of the most exciting structures that has been built in San Francisco in recent years. A dramatic and futuristic image conceals an enormous complexity of sustainable design principles that give form, up to the last detail, to this remarkable building.



The building occupies a large lot at the intersection of Seventh and Mission Streets and is well set back in order to allow the development of a large open public plaza. Three structures define the boundaries of this new public space: a slender 18-story tower running NE-SW, a perpendicular 4-story annex that is linked to the local existing neighborhood scale, and finally a free-standing cafeteria pavilion that is located close to the corner of both streets. Besides the cafeteria, a number of public facilities are housed within the tower building’s lower level including a conference center, a fitness center, and a day care center open to local residents as well as employees.

With this oasis-like great public space in a neighborhood scale and the dramatic image of the big tower in an urban scale that is very visible from the freeway that connects with the Bay Bridge, the project has became a new urban landmark.



Together with this accomplished design objective, much more has been written about the other two primary project strategies: strong principles of sustainable building design, and a new definition of the culture of the workplace. The building design and orientation allow maximum natural airflow for cooling and ventilation and include natural daylight for the big majority of the office interiors, maximizing energy efficiency. A smart decision in this context is that the building is fully air conditioned in the five lower levels where the highest concentration of people and equipment are located. Above these levels a sophisticated window system technology, part of the BAS or Building Automated System, allows the building to breathe by opening and closing windows automatically so natural fresh air can be let in. Consistently with this automated technology, other design decisions such as sunscreens were developed as part of the southeast elevation material or translucent sunshades into the northwest façade that break the negative impact of low sun radiation.



As far as the redefinition of the culture of the workplace some strategies used are the following:

New horizontal and vertical circulation paths that give employees opportunities for chance meetings;


A radically different layout of the typical office space arrangement with open work areas at the building perimeter and private office and conference spaces at central cores, producing more “democratic” working environments;

Skip-stop elevators that stop every third floor and along with the opening to spacious three-story high lobbies promote exercise through use of the central staircase;

The sky garden located at 11th, 12th and 13th floors with spectacular views; and

Monumental scale lobby at street level for informal meetings and social interaction.

Much of the research done for this building was further developed by Morphosis in their Caltran District 7 Headquarters in Los Angeles.




Rafael Cazorla 2009


How to visit


The building is located at the intersection of Mission and Seven Streets in the San Francisco South-of-Market district.


Public buses number 14 and 26 run through Mission Street. Metro lines J, K, L, M, N, and T stop at Civic Center Station. Just walk one block southeast to reach the building.

To visit the San Francisco Federal Building you will need to show an American ID or international passport. A convenient self-guided tour is available from 9am to 3pm Monday through Friday. Only “public space” can be seen (tenant work is not included on the tour): Main lobby Conference Center at Basement level, Elevators and Skygarden accessible by taking elevator to the 12th floor.


Books and other web sites


morphopedia.com has Thom Mayne’s own description and a few good pictures.






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