Award of Excellence
With the U.S. Census Bureau having outgrown its aging 1942-vintage home in Suitland, Maryland, the General Services Administration commissioned Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to design a new, 2.5-million-square-foot headquarters on an adjacent, 80-acre wooded site [record, March 2007, page 130]. A series of accessible green roofs and gardens unfold from the center of the site out to the adjacent woodland preserve, integrating the expansive, low-rise structure into its wooded site.
An iconic sunshade fronting the woodland side of the building mimics the forest with gently curved planks of FSC-certified white oak. Draping the building in such a natural material, SOM explores the language of sustainable design and makes the large complex appear accessible.
The Census Bureau staff, consolidated from six locations, enjoy on-site amenities, including individual climate control for workstations. A covered walkway from the building to the Metro station encourages employees to use public transportation, although 3,000 parking spaces can accommodate the entire staff, except during census years, when the number of employees doubles. Views of the natural surroundings and courtyard park from workstations oriented toward large windows have improved the workday experience and made the agency more attractive to potential employees.
By developing a visual language of sustainability, SOM has shown how new requirements for federal buildings can be used as design assets. In addition, the agency has found that its new home allows it to operate more efficiently. Nestling into its wooded site, this very large building has found a way to stand out by fitting in.