When it comes to architecture, especially in high-profile, award winning projects, we’re often impressed by the big picture. But it’s the details, the smaller scale issues, that create the actual user experience.
In the June edition of Architectural Record, critic John King took a “Second Look” at Thomas Mayne’s San Francisco Federal Building (SFFB). His observations brings into focus the need to consider how a building is actually experienced.
The SFFB earned a LEED Silver certification for it’s environmentally friendly design, and the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects gave it a Design Award in 2008. And there is no question that it’s a beautiful structure created by a visionary designer.
King confesses to seeing only the expansive view when he first toured the building shortly after it opened in 2007. He, and other critics, were rightly dazzled by such innovations as orienting the 18-floor office tower to the sun in order to maximize daylighting and ventilation and stainless steel panels designed to snap open and shut in response to the movement of the sun.
“We reviewed the newcomer as though it were a sculpture and then moved on,” writes King. “Buildings are created to function as part of their physical and cultural surroundings, and they reveal themselves with the slow passage of time.”
He describes his subsequent visit to the SFFB, which this time included a stop at the Social Security office, where sublicants to the bureaucracy wait their turn sitting in metal folding chairs in a windowless room. King also notes that a street level coffee shop that, instead of windows looking out on the street, features a thick and quite uninviting concrete wall to provide security. And, despite being a product of the post-9/11 world, apparently there were inadequate considerations for the several security check points that “crimp access” to a beautiful sky garden and other parts of the building.
The exterior of the building gets all the kudos, but there was apparently too little regard for the interior spaces, where the functions of the building actually happen. The humans who inhabit the building get nothing that makes their environment a better place to work. Citizens (who paid for the building) aren’t even afforded windows as wait in line to handle Social Security business!
I think that an office building must have an appropriate impact on the urban environment, but it should be first and foremost a place to work more effectively. It can’t be sustainable if people don’t want to work there. All the research about LEED buildings shows that buildings that have fresh air, access to natural light and personal controls for lighting and HVAC have lower absenteeism, better mood, and better work efficiency.
At Leslie Saul & Associates, we want to make the world a better place to work, play, pray, learn, shop, live and heal, one project at a time. One way is do that is to keep in mind the human aspects of the spaces we help create.