Suitland, Maryland


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.


U.S. General Services Administration

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
14 Wall Street
New York, NY 10005
212-298-9300 tel.
212-298-9500 fax

Design partners: David Childs, FAIA; Gary Haney, AIA

Management partner: Peter Magill, AIA
Project manager: Elias Moubayed

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

Design/build architect: Skanska with HKS Architects (design/build contractors)

Associate architect for programming and space planning:  Metropolitan Architects and Planners

Interior designer:

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

Structural: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Design/civil: Wiles Mensch

M/e/p: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Planning/landscape & environmental analysis: EDAW
Lighting: Domingo Gonzalez Associates (base building); Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design (interior)

Audio/visual & acoustics: Polysonics

Fire protection: Rolf Jensen & Associates

Cost estimation: Project Management Services

Vertical transportation:
Lerch Bates & Associates

Security: Sako & Associates

Parking: Carl Walker

Blast: Hinman Consulting Engineers

Food service: Hopkins Foodservice Specialists

Telecommunications: Shen Milsom & Wilke

Curtainwall: CDC

Design/build contractor:
Skanska USA

Design/build architect of record:

Design/build structural engineer:
Walter P. Moore

Design/build m/e/p engineer:
Southland Industries; GHT

Design/build civil engineer:
A. Morton Thomas



Structural system:
Steel at office building; concrete at garages

Exterior Cladding: 
Metal/glass curtainwall:
Viracon VE1-2M 1” insulated glazing unit with 10 percent ceramic frit; curtainwall manufactured by Enclos

Green-tinted pre-cast concrete spandrel panels with mica flakes by Artex Systems

Curved, glue-laminated white oak sun-shading blades by Sentinel Structures; panelized tongue-and-groove Ipe boards by ISEC

EIFS, ACM, or other:
Ivy green screen system at parking enclosures by Greenscreen

White reflective; garden roof comprised of engineered soil and landscaping, intensive at garage and extensive at office building; fully adhered PVC roof membrane system complete with flashings and terminations

Entrances: Herculite type clear glass doors

Wood: Pivot wooden doors with push/pull handles by Elmes

Glass: Herculite glass doors with push/pull handles by Elmes

Locksets: Matise heavy duty type with lever type trim

Hinges: Stainless steel pivot hinges at ground floor and office support nodes; full mortise concealed hall bearing

Pulls: Elmes

Interior finishes:
Acoustical ceilings:
USG Geometrix ceiling panels basket weave pattern at dining area, USG Transluscent ceiling panels at servery; Armstrong Optima Open Pan 1220 x 1400 Plank ceiling with 15/16 prelude grid exposed at workstations

Demountable partitions:
ACME office front systems with acid etched glass

Paints and stains: Benjamin Moore; Sherman Williams

Formglas FRG wall panel at street custom designed by SOM; Sina Pearson Calypso Banana wall covering at Credit Union; Maharam Medium #463490 color 029 pistachio and # 458640 color 013 Myrtle at auditorium, training, and conference center

HBF Allegro wall panels, walnut wood veneer panels at dining area

Special surfacing:
Vanceva tinted laminated glass fins

Floor and wall tile:       
Stonesource Veneto glass tiles, Da-Lite ceramic tiles at servery; Magnan white & bleu terrazzo at dining, servery, café and Credit Union; Quarry Tile at kitchen floor, ceramic tile at kitchen walls; Magnan white terrazzo at street

Milliken Way carpet, custom designed by SOM

Raised flooring:
Tate Access Floors with under-floor AC supply

Office furniture:  Knoll Morrisson workstations; Humanscale Freedom chairs

Reception furniture:
Stone benches at ground floor lobby

Fritz Hansen series 7 chairs at street, servery, café, and nodes; Brayton Switch chair with ArcCom fabric at dining area; Humanscale Freedom chair at Credit Union and node conference room; KI Versa chair at auditorium

Street, Dining & Nodes: Knoll Arena tables at street, dining, and nodes; Keilhauer Branden banquette, Keilhauer Branden table at Credit Union and node seating area; Howe conference table at node conference room

Arc-Com Silverado at café, dining & servery; Momentum Tease & Sense and Sina Pearson Calypso on Branden benches, Momentum Velese on Cal lounge chairs and Canal chairs; Maharam Voyage at fitness center; Humanscale Vellum upholstery on auditorium, training, and conference center chairs; Pallas Textiles Savoy on auditorium chairs; Sina Pearson Calypso fabric on Branden chairs at conference center and break-out areas

Interior ambient lighting:
Philips Strato panel diffusing system

Nieghthardt dome pendant light fixture at dining area; Zumtobel linear direct/indirect luminaire; Prudential skydome fluorescent light fixture at training center; Edison Price Predlite metal halide downlight; Zumtobel 4’ linear fluorescent at workplaces