50 United Nations Plaza
San Francisco, California
50 United Nations Plaza
San Francisco, California

In the reconstruction following the devastation sustained during the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, city officials developed a plan to unite government services in one central location in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center. The seventh and final piece comprising the Civic Center was the Second Renaissance Revival–style federal building designed by Arthur Brown, Jr. and completed in 1936. The federal building was renamed 50 United Nations Plaza in 1975; the entire Civic Center entity was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. 

The renovation of one of San Francisco’s iconic federal buildings embodies an ambitious agenda for the treatment of historical facilities, a strong expression of sustainability and modern space planning for future work styles. The Federal Building at 50 United Nations Plaza delicately balances historical preservation with a modern, sustainable and resource-conscious retrofit. 


The Vision

A stellar example of a Deep Green Retrofit, this project incorporates an integrative, whole-building analysis and construction process to achieve excellent energy savings and efficiency. Delicately balancing an historical retrofit with modern, energy- and resource-conscious technology such as updated plumbing fixtures consuming 80 percent less water, and highly-efficient LED lighting fixtures, the team made constant effort to evaluate each decision, and determine whether the best sustainable solution was to rehabilitate an existing feature or replace with new technology. The result: 98 percent of the existing walls, floors, and roof were reused, as well as 52 percent of the building’s interior, non-structural elements.


The Design

This forward-looking and adaptable workplace design takes into account that work styles will evolve. The historic corridors were opened up, bringing natural daylight and outside views into what was previously a dark and underutilized space. The workspace layout creates neighborhoods and collaboration “node” spaces, which serve as anchors. These fixed nodes act as a fulcrum around which project-based ‘neighborhoods’ can form and reform as the GSA’s mission and work styles change over time. As the drive toward higher utilization continues, and the concept of a fixed personal space within the work environment diminishes, these anchors will orient the surrounding staff, providing acoustical privacy and a communal resource binding departments and project teams together.

All nodes are vertically stacked at the same location on all the floors. Since the workspace is completely open, an enclosed Acoustic Privacy Room (APR) was created within each node for employees to use for small meetings, conference calls or personal calls.