Governmental services and agencies can have a very formal and secluded connotation among the public. So when the General Services Administration (GSA) decided to build its new offices in the Houston metro area, it wanted to be a symbol of strength and security for the community, rather than have an ominous presence.
GSA enlisted the help of international architecture and planning firms Leo A Daly/LAN and PageSoutherlandPage to design a functional yet aesthetic workplace that would not only create a welcoming vibe and fit into the sustainable theme of the area, but also would be flexible enough to allow their employees to stay up to date on the latest technologies needed to keep the country secure.
“The client wanted the new building to enhance the GSA’s identity in the community,” says Larry Speck, principal at PageSoutherlandPage and lead designer on the joint venture. “It was post-9/11, and they really wanted to have a presence that would encourage people to interact with them and at the same time have a building that would be strong and stately.”
Leo A Daly/LAN and PageSoutherlandPage devised a synthesized design solution that equally addressed and integrated the client’s concerns for the 275,000-sq.-ft. building. “Rather than viewing these as independent design parameters, this project addresses multiple issues concurrently and accomplishes a broad range of goals seamlessly and economically,” says Speck.
In order to give the building a community presence, according to Speck, the design team covered the plain concrete façade with aluminum shingles that soften the cold appearance and reflect heat to retain interior temperature stability. Influenced by images they had seen depicting Houston as a “green” city with trees, plants, etc., the team designed a second skin of dual-layered, dark green-colored glass, hung off the building’s southern side, to provide an aesthetic appeal. The movement of the sun throughout the day creates continually changing shades on the façade and gives a sense of weightlessness that blends seamlessly into its surrounding environment.
The skin also serves as a source of shade from the scorching Texas sun and creates natural ventilation, which significantly reduces the energy drain from air conditioning systems. Small openings were strategically placed in the glass to allow for efficient daylighting and reduced interior glare. On estimate, the ventilated façade offers a reduction in energy consumption of 30 to 50 percent.
Multiple other sustainable inclusions put the GSA building on target for LEED certification. Further green strategies include: The buildings and paved areas are carefully located to preserve several stands of existing trees; the location of swales and berms minimize erosion and runoff; the narrow design broadens the south and north faces; the site is adjacent to mass transit and above the 500-year floodplain; and water efficiency via drought-hardy landscaping, rainwater harvesting, low-usage plumbing fixtures, and cooling tower water recycling.
“By integrating concerns for function, technical performance, and mission-specific requirements into well-synthesized holistic design solutions,” says Speck, “the GSA office building creates a simple, elegant, and economical building well-suited to its specific purpose and the goals of its agency.”
The General Services Administration Office in Houston, Tx. was completed in June 2009, with a formal ribbon cutting ceremony in fall 2009.