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March 24, 2009
by Melissa Simonetti

Event: Films and Conversations with the Architects: Thom Mayne: U.S. Federal Office Building, San Francisco. Producer: Edgar B. Howard. Directors: Tom Piper, Charles Gansa
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.05.09
Speakers: Thom Mayne, FAIA — Founder & Principal, Morphosis; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Organizers: Checkerboard Film Foundation; AIANY
Sponsors: Microsol

Thom Mayne, FAIA, founder and principal of Morphosis, begins each project by asking plenty of questions. The style of the building is not a priority. Instead, questions such as, “How can we make the best office building?” or “How can we remove the air conditioning?” come first. During the design of the U.S. Federal Office Building in San Francisco, Mayne discovered the best way to find the answers was by talking with the office workers themselves. They wanted three things: natural light, a view, and an open window. At a recent discussion and film screening of “Thom Mayne: U.S. Federal Office Building” (produced by Edgar B. Howard, and directed by Tom Piper and Charles Gansa), Mayne explained how these requests inspired a building that made sustainability the primary concern.

The film showed how aesthetics directly resulted from the building’s performance. The north side of the 18-story structure has a green-glass façade and a stainless steel screen that wraps over the top of the building to the south. The porous nature of the screen allows natural light into the interior. The operable windows and undulating concrete ceilings allow the breeze to enter and disperse throughout each floor.

“Architecture is something that comes from questions,” said Mayne after the film. “It is a collective form” that integrates technology, politics, and even social systems. He values “dialogue, context, and complexity.” Although the building is sustainable, the process should develop from the needs and values that connect us all, not from a LEED checklist, he argues. For Mayne, ultimately, it was his high regard for questions that drove the U.S. Federal Building to sustainable, beyond the “checklist.”

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