Project in Detail
United States Census Bureau Headquarters
Suitland, United States of America
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Census 1 - exterior
Eduard Hueber - Archphoto.com
OVERVIEW AND ARCHITECTURAL LANGUAGE
The U.S. Census Bureau Headquarters in Suitland, Maryland, was designed to be the architectural expression of “sustainability” and a showcase of sustainable building design for the American federal government. It creates a new architectural vocabulary for sustainability through scale, materials, siting, landscaping, orientation to nature and daylight, and building systems. The design strongly advances the U.S. General Services Administration’s commitment to LEED Green Building principles, whole-life cost reduction, and the creation of great workspaces for employees of the United States government.
The complex comprises 1.5 million square feet (139,355 gsm) of office space and 1 million square feet (92,903 gsm) of structured parking. Completed in April 2007, the design-build project consolidated Census Bureau offices from six locations onto a single, flexible, integrated center for up to 6,000 employees and 3,000 cars, completed construction in two phases (due to funding limitations) and worked around two existing buildings that were fully occupied. The project was on a strict, immutable schedule.
SCALE AND APPEARANCE
In scale, the complex is deceptively large. If vertical, the buildings would be as tall as the former New York Twin Towers. Hence one of the greatest challenges was to “tuck” this mass into the existing 80-acre woodland so as to minimize environmental impact and create a working environment that excels in functionality, sustainability, and user enjoyment.
The solution was to lay the connected buildings on their sides and restrict building height to about the level of the woodland treetops. Outward-facing facades are clad in a unique architectural sunshade--made of FSC-certified sustainable oak--that mimics forest shapes and allows the buildings to blend into the wooded setting. Inward-facing facades are clad in glass that is embedded with a shading frit, which mimics the curved shapes of the wooden sunshade. Parking structures are clad in greenery with three varieties of climbing ivy bloom seasonally and provide a varied year-long appearance. Natural views are brought into the workplace throughout the year and create fresh scenic views as the seasonal foliage changes. Three separate garden schemes, including pedestrian parks created on green roofs, offer newly created landscape havens outdoors.
ADAPTABILITY AND ACCESSIBILITY
From the start, the program called for extraordinary flexibility. Agency offices were consolidated from six locations into one fully integrated, self-contained campus, built in two construction phases while working around two fully occupied buildings onsite. The facility was required to periodically “expand and contract” to accommodate the decennial census and a temporary doubling of the workforce (from 3,000 to 6,000).
In order to achieve two-phase construction, the complex was conceived as a rectangle “cleaved” into two halves—surrounding a central sustainable courtyard--that could be functionally joined at completion.
Design features for flexibility include easy reconfiguration of state-of-the-art telecommunications; the option of organizing space vertically or horizontally within a narrow floorplate featuring open work spaces oriented to maximize natural daylight and woodland or garden views; vertical interfloor communications via one-floor staircases between stacked, functionally related departments; core-located internal support services rooms easily accessible to work groups; underfloor air distribution that permits each employee to personally adjust workspace climate control. The complex is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, making it entirely accessible.
TEAMWORK, ORGANIZATION, AND WAYFINDING
The interiors team worked very closely with the architectural team to create one fluid space, even though the structures are divided both in plan and construction phasing.
The interiors designers employed three major unifying concepts: The Mainstreet, the Boxes, and the Spectrum. The Mainstreet—an underground concourse from which branch the “Boxes”—centralizes amenities such as the cafeteria, the fitness center, auditorium, and credit union. Maintreet is lined with a tectonic rock wall illuminated by spectrum lighting that both animates the space and serves as a way-finding device from one end of the complex to the other. The interior color scheme ranges from subdued natural hues (in the exterior-abutting spaces, where outdoor views provide orientation) to vivid spectrum hues (in the core spaces, where color provides orientation).
SUSTAINABILITY AND ENERGY CONSERVATION
The U.S. Census Bureau was designed to LEED Silver standards (certification pending). According to the final Energy Analysis Report by the design-builder, the project saves an estimated 15.8% in energy use as compared to a traditionally designed building. Sustainable features include water efficient landscaping; water retention ponds 100% available for onsite landscape irrigation; waterless urinals and low-flow faucets that reduce water use by 36.2 percent; green roofs (doubling as vertical pedestrian parks) that cover 50% of total roof area; regional materials (50% from within 500-miles); 75%+ recycling or salvage construction waste; 10% recycled content in building materials; low-VOC paints and non-urea formaldehyde products; maximized natural daylight; self-dimming illumination and energy-saving lighting motion sensors; innovative exterior sunshade of FSC-certified wood; garages green screens that improves air quality; minimal land disturbance (buildings occupy only 50% of the site); direct access to Metrorail, and parking capped at 3,000 cars, 310 bike racks, and travel-reducing onsite employee amenities.
AESTHETICS AND USER SATISFACTION
In short, there is no other building complex like this in the world. The distinctive exterior appearance features the wood sunshade juxtaposed with shear walls of complementary fritted glass, all surrounded by a carefully planned sustainable landscape. Inside, color and craftsmanship dominate to yield a memorable, highly functional work environment. The complex stands as a model for future offices of the American government and has already become a cherished part of its setting.
The project executive for the client reflects, “I see the employees when I go to the building, and I talk to them. They are thrilled to be in this building. They are thrilled. There are not too many federal buildings like this. Every one of the elements of the building is so nicely designed—the finishes, the color—it is so impressive…. People love to come to work. They get a chance to walk the paths…. They say how comfortable the whole building system is.”
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP