Every 10 years since 1790, the public and media have turned attention to the U.S. Census Bureau’s panoptic data collection about individuals, households, and businesses. The data are analyzed, disseminated, and debated—essential work for a democracy. Today, the bureau’s role reaches way beyond its decennial undertaking. Calling itself “America’s Fact Finder,” it conducts surveys on economic and social issues.
Although the bureau maintains 12 regional offices, 6,000 employees are headquartered in Suitland, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. With the agency having outgrown its aging 1942-vintage home, the General Services Administration (GSA) commissioned Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to design a new, 2.5-million-square-foot complex on an adjacent, 80-acre wooded site.
The client had an unusual requirement regarding flexibility. Every 10 years its head count triples for the duration of the census-taking process. The bureau asked SOM to create a system for accommodating this temporary, albeit gigantic, expansion. In addition to addressing the needs of a technology-driven enterprise, the program also reflected the GSA’s requirement that new facilities earn a LEED Silver rating. But the scope of this project extended beyond physical expansion and system upgrades. The Census Bureau wanted its headquarters to be a model of worker productivity and a magnet to attract and retain skilled professionals. Thus, it requested additional amenities, including a health-care center, library, gymnasium, cafeteria, credit union, and conference center.
SOM splayed the building’s overall volume into two wings that slot together around a central court. Narrow, 41-foot-wide floor plates give the building an almost European feel and ensure that every workstation receives ample daylight, helping lessen electricity needs. Outside, a brise-soleil shades the curtain wall. Vertically mounted fins—made from wavy, marine-grade, white oak panels—reduce solar glare indoors and establish a rhythmic pattern across the facades.
Inside the office areas, SOM organized individual workstations into open-plan “bull pens,” flexible areas that can be expanded from four workstations to 10 when the bureau staffs up for census-taking. To codify the building’s different functions and assist in orientation, SOM’s interior design team, led by Stephen Apking, developed a strategy composed of three well-defined elements: the Street, the Boxes, and the Color Spectrum. The Street is a ground-floor corridor connecting program amenities to work areas. Above ground, the Boxes rise through the building’s two floors to connect vertically linked functions with staircases and elevators. Workstations at the building’s perimeter are rendered in contemplative neutral tones, but the Color Spectrum morphs from this subdued palette into vibrant colors that guide people through interior zones.
Design partners: David Childs, FAIA; Gary Haney, AIA
Management partner: Peter Magill, AIA
Senior designers: Anthony Fieldman, AIA; Rod Garrett, AIA
Senior technical coordinator: Mark Igou, AIA
Technical coordinator: Michael Carline
Designers: Aybars Asci, AIA; Kim VanHolsbeke; Takuya Yamauchi; Magd Fahmy; Noppon Psjutharnon; Devawongs Devakul Na Ayudhya; Joyce Ip
Associate architect for programming and space planning: Metropolitan Architects and Planners
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Design partner: Stephen Apking, AIA
Management partner: Peter Magill, AIA
Project manager: Nazila Shabestari Duran, AIA
Senior designers: Nestor Santa-Cruz; Donald Holt; Dale Greenwald; Nicholas Cotton; Mary Broaddus
Strategic planner: Catherine Haley
Furniture designer: Cynthia Mirbach
Senior technical coordinator: Elizabeth Marr, AIA
Designers: Amber Giacometti ; Ya Ching Hsueh; Celine Jeanne; Jennifer Lee; Ashley O’Neill; Michele Pate; Jeremy Singer
Design/civil: Wiles Mensch www.ekcorp.com
M/e/p: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Audio/visual & acoustics: Polysonics www.polysonics-copr.com
Fire protection: Rolf Jensen & Associates www.rjagroup.com
Cost estimation: Project Management Services
Security: Sako & Associates www.rjagroup.com
Parking: Carl Walker www.carlwalker.com
Blast: Hinman Consulting Engineers www.hce.com
Food service: Hopkins Foodservice Specialists www.hopkins-fs.com
Telecommunications: Shen Milsom & Wilke www.smwinc.com
Curtainwall: CDC www.cdc-usa.com
Design/build architect of record:
Design/build structural engineer:
Design/build civil engineer:
EIFS, ACM, or other:
Wood: Pivot wooden doors with push/pull handles by Elmes www.elmesworld.com
Hinges: Stainless steel pivot hinges at ground floor and office support nodes; full mortise concealed hall bearing
Pulls: Elmes www.elmesworld.com
Floor and wall tile: