Touring San Francisco’s Federal Building
While exploring cities neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street, I’ve had my share of spontaneity. I like it that way, too.
Recently a relative was visiting from the East Coast. After a scrumptious breakfeast at Dottie’s, including a gluttonous square of their intoxicating blueberry coffeecake, we wanted a stroll. Plus it was sunny.
It’s easy to forget about the Federal Building – a place that’s free to tour almost any time it is open – but we were an alley’s length away and its angular shape, with its network of shadows, drew us near. After getting through the TSA-esque security line we were free to roam the lobby and a few other floors where there were offices on display or other attractions. After long waits in traffic heading from the 101 to the Bay Bridge I’ve memorized the profile of the building that includes a large square cut out in the center of the building. The guards told us that it was a public seating area and directed us to the floor.
This Federal Building, where Nancy Pelosi’s offices are located, is a highlight of San Francisco’s green architecture. The 18-floor, platinum LEED-certified building was completed in 2007 by Thom Mayne and the firm from which he hails, Morphosis, who has been known to make one project the continuation of another. In this case he drew on lessons learned from a previous design challenge in Los Angeles creating a new CalTrans headquarters.
My first impression after winding passed the security turnstyles was that I had gone spelunking – the inner lobby is not at all unlike the inside of some large underground cavern with angular shapes jutting in from all sides. The colors are striking even without being vibrant, but it isn’t a spacious feeling space.
On the higher floors we found the opening, and got to see the glass and steel wall attachments that cover the building in closer detail. Better yet, the view from each side was marvelous; to the north was a view of Civic Center Plaza, the Asian Art Museum and City Hall, and to the south the hills blanketed with colorful neighborhoods and snakes of highway. There were plenty of vacant tables had our plan been to picnic or had we brought books to read with our feet propped in the sun. On our way back inside there was a small set of stairs that looked like they headed back to the elevator, but on they way they came to an unexpected mini-lobby, outfitted with a ping pong table, plenty of rackets and balls. It seemed to be waiting for us.
As we began a little match we were greeted by a man, an out of work architect, himself touring the structure, and asked us if we knew when we awoke this morning that we’d be playing table tennis in the Federal Building. “No.” we chimed in unison, grinning. And that was the best part.
Head to the Federal Building yourself for impromptu ping pong, city views, and a futuristic architectural wonder. There’s more info here.