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  5. SOM
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  7. US Census Bureau Headquarters / SOM

US Census Bureau Headquarters / SOM

  • 01:00 - 21 September, 2009
US Census Bureau Headquarters / SOM
US Census Bureau Headquarters / SOM, © Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo

© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo © Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo © Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo © Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo +15

  • Architects

  • Location

    Suitland, MD 20746, United States
  • Architects

    Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
  • Design/Build Architect

    HKS Architects, Inc. (Architect of Record)
  • Associate Interior Architect

    Metropolitan Architects & Planners (Programming and Space Planning)
  • Project team

    David Childs, FAIA / Gary Haney, AIA / Peter Magill, AIA / Elias Moubayed / Anthony Fieldman, AIA / Rod Garrett, AIA / Mark Igou, AIA / Aybars Asci, AIA / Kim Van Holsbeke / Takuya Yamauchi / Magd Fahmy / Noppon Psjutharnon / Devawongs Devakul Na Ayudhya / Joyce Ip / Michael Carline
  • Interior Design Team

    Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP: Stephen Apking, AIA / Peter Magill, AIA / Nazila Shabestari Duran, AIA / Nestor Santa-Cruz / Donald Holt / Dale Greenwald / Nicholas Cotton / Mary Broaddus / Catherine Haley / Cynthia Mirbach / Elizabeth Marr, AIA / Amber Giacometti / Ya Ching Hsueh / Celine Jeanne / Jennifer Lee / Ashley O’Neill / Michele Pate / Jeremy Singer
  • Structural Engineers

    Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
  • Design Civil Engineer

    Wiles Mensch Corporation
  • M/E/P Engineer

    Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
  • Design/Build Structural Engineer

    Walter P. Moore & Associates
  • Design/Build M/E/P Engineer

    Soutland Industries / GHT Limited
  • Design/Build Civil Engineer

    A. Morton Thomas and Associates
  • Planning/Landscape & Environmental Analysis

    EDAW, Inc.
  • Curtain Wall Consultant

    CDC, Inc.
  • Lighting Design

    Domingo Gonzalez Associates (base building) / Cline, Bettridge, Bernstein Lighting Design (interiors)
  • Project Cost

    $331 million (total of two phases)
  • Client/Owner

    U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)
  • Tenant

    U.S. Census Bureau
  • Design/Build Contractor

    Skanska USA Building Inc.
  • Construction Manager

    DMJM/Heery a Joint Venture
  • Cost Estimating

    Project Management Services, Inc.
  • Vertical Transportation

    Lerch, Bates & Associates, Inc.
  • Security

    Sako & Associates
  • Telecommunications

    Shen Milsom & Wilke
  • Audio, Visual & Acoustical

    Polysonics, Inc.
  • Area

    0.0 ft2
  • Project Year

  • Photographs

Background & Overview

Situated on 80 wooded acres of the Suitland Federal Center near downtown Washington, D.C., the new 2.5-million-square-foot headquarters for the U.S. Census Bureau houses all the Bureau’s 6,000 employees. The Bureau’s previous workplace model was a 1930s ideal with offices arranged along long corridors – a model so highly codified for government workplaces that entire building typologies (finger buildings, etc) were created to accommodate the idea. SOM’s goal in designing this new headquarters for Census was to bring the very best and latest thinking on architecture and the corporate workplace from the business world and apply it to a government agency.

© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo

To minimize this necessarily large building’s presence in its natural setting, the design team limited the office program to eight stories of height and used a variety of other architectural and sustainable-design strategies to reduce the real and perceived impact on the site. In the end, the large corporate campus explores an architectural expression that celebrates and heightens its relationship to the landscape.

Given the size of the building and the need to update the Bureau’s organizational system, SOM had to develop a series of innovative techniques for the architecture, space planning and way finding. Also included in the program is an assortment of amenities, such as medical facilities, library, an auditorium, dining area, a credit union, and a gymnasium.

© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo

Architecture and Sustainability

Due to the shear size of the project and the sensitivity of the site, a unique, holistic architectural language was developed. Sustainability was interpreted in formal as well as mechanical terms. Two separate buildings grow from one single mass, cleaved apart to create a central garden that integrates the building with its landscape, while maintaining one cohesive vision.

© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo

By eroding the mass, and developing materials to camouflage the edges of the enclosure, SOM developed a concept that breaks down the enormous scale of this building, makes it permeable and blurs the boundaries between building and landscape. The curved office buildings have two enclosures. The outside edges that face the woods are covered in a brise soleil of laminated, wooden pieces that create dappled patterns of shadow and warm light inside the offices, suggesting a forest interior. Their size and frequency is determined by the scale of the human body; occupants can view the exterior clearly while being shielded from the sun. The FSC-certified wood – marine-grade, white oak – is harvested according to sustainable guidelines.

Underlying this "wood veil" is a system of green tinted precast spandrels and glazed vision panels that match the cast of the landscape. The inside edges that face the courtyard are bare and fully glazed to maximize daylight. A finely fritted veil of curving lines echoes the wooden sunshades.

© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo

The façade of the building that faces the central courtyard has large windows strategically placed at intervals which protrude from or are recessed into the building. Clad in Brazilian Ipe, these windows indicate the location of support nodes, containing office-related spaces such as lounges, conference meeting areas, etc. – program elements that support the work areas. Sunlight and views to the landscaped courtyard penetrate the building at these locations.

The adjacent parking garages are sheathed in a green, wire armature for ivy. When fully grown, this "ivy veil" will comprise a 'skin' of leaves that filter light, increase oxygen content within the garages, and allow for natural ventilation.

© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo

To achieve a silver rating from LEED, the designers incorporated many other sustainable techniques, including water reclamation, recycled building materials, minimal energy consumption and natural daylighting into the design. In addition to these prescribed sustainability measures, the building's shape, massing, and cladding create a new language for sustainable architecture.

With its wood-clad offices and ivy-draped parking structures, the Census Bureau blurs the distinction between the building and landscape by camouflaging both the structures and their scales.


The interiors team worked very closely with the architectural team to create one fluid space, despite the fact that the structures are divided both in plan and in terms of phasing. First, the client’s program requirements were analyzed to develop criteria for the interior architecture and base-building design. At a macro level, the anticipated sizes for user groups determined the logical break points in the massing between the two buildings. At the floor scale, a scheme was developed to determine the lease span depth and the location of support areas, as well as a concept for the shared nodes, located in the window boxes. Other criteria developed during this analysis include ceiling heights, loading requirements, long-span construction and environmental criteria. As the base building design developed, the interiors group rigorously tested each proposed scenario for compliance with the established standards.

© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo

Not only did the building need to comply with the area requirements, it had to be carefully planned to provide a functional and efficient workplace for the Bureau’s employees. After researching international best practices in office spaces, the interior team selected an open office plan that brings in optimum natural light – a fairly major change for a government agency. Throughout the entire building, open workspaces with low partitions surround the perimeter to allow for natural light exposure and easy communication. Offices with glass fronts and internal support rooms are located in the core, easily accessible to each work group.

For maximum flexibility, the work areas can be organized either horizontally or vertically. However, most directorates are organized in a series of two story units, each with similar components, but adaptable to the mission-specific requirements of each directorate. The units are connected vertically by an internal stairway linked to support nodes. These nodes provide pantries, lounges, copy centers and gathering spaces, where employees can have chance meetings with their colleagues.

© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo

Lastly, the team developed and employed three major unifying and wayfinding concepts: the Street, the Boxes and the Color Spectrum. The Street is the main passageway to access the amenities, such as the café, the fitness center, the auditorium, etc. – in effect making it the public highway through the campus. Special attention was paid to drawing the maximum amount of natural light into this underground area - by providing views of the outside through portals. Reiterating the subterranean level of the Street, it is lined with a tectonic rockwall, which hides service stations and activates this public space, and is illuminated by spectrum lighting from one end to the other. . The amenities off the Street are housed in individual Boxes, branching off the core of the building and engaging the surrounding landscape.

The Color Spectrum is the final element that pulls the campus together. Based on the Bureau’s desire to incorporate nature into the building, the color scheme was designed to resonate from natural hues and sun lighting into vibrant, energetic colors. Color tones in the areas near the curtain wall are calm and natural, since the exterior acts as a natural way finding mechanism. However, when one travels towards the core of the building, the support nodes and the Street, bright, vibrant colors are used as a graphic, spatial tool. Further, the color schemes differ both horizontally and vertically. As one passes from one end of the building to the other, the color spectrum is revealed horizontally. In addition, as one passes from the ground floor to the top floor, the patterns in elevator corridors become darker and increasingly prominent.

© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
© Eduard Hueber/Arch Photo
Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address. Cite: "US Census Bureau Headquarters / SOM" 21 Sep 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed . <>
Read comments


Eric · October 13, 2011

I first drove by the building 3 weeks ago and I enjoyed the architecture. However, as I now drive by it everyday I realize that this building turned its back to the neighborhood. So many workers are there everyday it could have easily brought more development to the area and money. I was taught that a good design has a relationship to its surroundings or can at least help improve them. This was a HUGH wasted opportunity in taking a step in transforming a neighborhood. Anyone would understand this if the took photographs of the entire site. FAIL.

Zied · May 03, 2011

Right, the facade is cool and well designed, but you really look at the provided typical floor plan.....Wow, how can people work in such conditions, those cubicles in such arrangment are devastating, coz the deal is park your brain outside dude as tom peters says.

Erica Riva · April 30, 2011

US Census Bureau Headquarters / SOM _ #architecture #photography

A57 - Arq. Colombia · September 09, 2010

Arquizapping Maryland - Bogotá

ARQmilo · September 09, 2010

I can´t imagine how will be the facade´s elements maintenance.

max · April 01, 2010

Hate the wood cladding. I'm sure the people in the offices do too. Looking out at those? Come on...

Matt · September 24, 2009

I like the natural light resources used here.

budi rawakopi · September 23, 2009

good shading solutions

robert · September 22, 2009

how do you clean those windows?

tk · September 22, 2009

standard american office park architecture. the money would have been better spent on employee health insurance.

Archandy · September 22, 2009

"its wood-clad offices and ivy-draped parking structures, the Census Bureau blurs the distinction between the building and landscape by camouflaging both the structures and their scales"

From one or two specific viewing points outside, maybe this works, but from inside it just looks like bent jail bars. Not great symbolism for office workers.

Shropshire Architect · September 22, 2009

I like the organic nature of the exterior, which is linked with the floor and some wall finishes.

oscar falcón lara · September 21, 2009

I think it reflects a very corporate, governmental ideal of a work space, other than that I like the facade finish, it's unique but I think it is a very standard 70's big box building. If that is what they were going for than well done, if not, maybe having so many people work on a project like this is not such a good idea. I know they are a high standing respectable firm, nothing against them, it's just that they have designed many buildings better than this one IMHO.

Tom in London · September 22, 2009 06:27 PM

Imagine going to work here every day. I'd rather be dead.

victor a. · September 21, 2009

I do not remember well but i have seen this facade before in archdaily, i guess some project in Spain maybe. I thought that SOM was going to be more creative and innovative. So boring facade, too repetitive ........

cm_scirocco · September 21, 2009

"Their size and frequency is determined by the scale of the human body; occupants can view the exterior clearly while being shielded from the sun."

Notice how the picture below this line pretty clearly disagrees with what their saying... Never believe the hype.

Tuf-Pak · September 22, 2009 07:28 AM

Haha, That sure is a lot of sun not being shaded.

I'm stunned by how projects in the US (particularly big bureaucratic projects, both governmental and corporate) get the spirit just pounded out of them. Even when, as this project seem to project, there's a real interest in something new.

I can imagine that the conceptual work for this project was strong...and the idea is meritorious. But the result is sort of soulless like any other "High Design" U.S. project: it's just one with less "tech-y" aluminum and more "kicky" wood.

I'm saddened that often when architecture is discussed you have to tag on "...pretty good for an American project".

Emerson Gámez B. · September 21, 2009

I like.

C.C.C.P. · September 21, 2009

so so.


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