MICRO // MACRO  |  Los Angeles, CA

Design competition, Sasaki Associates

For the 2011 Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition an interdisciplinary team of planners and designers proposed an unconventional approach to bringing a 1960s federal building in Los Angeles to zero environmental impact. 

Our proposal is as follows:


Wasted space is not sustainable space. Current Federal space standards match industry standards, allotting users approximately 230 square feet - a generous standard compared to contemporary offices in the U.S. and Europe. Micro//Macro proposes a strategy for valuing space to influence building culture, the neighbourhood, and the environmental footprint. 


Our GSA building - characterized by a block-y shape and significant carbon emissions - has a large environmental footprint. Typically, the approach to reducing the environmental footprint considers how to improve the building’s performance, but this approach alone is not sufficient to reduce carbon emissions. A second dimension concerns how the building is used: a densely populated, interactive workplace can precipitate big reductions in the carbon emissions of the building.


We argue that (1) rethinking how people work and how to allocate space will lower the net environmental footprint while also enhancing community and flexibility of use; (2) renovating the cores of the building to bring light, natural ventilation, and a central promenade staircase into the structure will improve the quality of the experience and reduce energy consumption; (3) enhancing amenities on site will transform it to a hub of activity, encourage users to live locally, and strengthen the urban fabric; (4) the addition rooftop loft housing, oriented towards a new generation of champions for Downtown LA, will build a permanent element of community at the site.


We propose a new space standard for 85% of the offices: 130 ft2/person, designed in a flexible, open layout to enhance social interactions and collaboration. Moreover, efficient space standards create opportunities for new amenities in the other 15% - including an open atrium, daycare, fitness - plus outdoor programming, including a food truck plaza, farmers market, and rooftop housing - to serve building users and the broader urban community. 


The Micro//Macro approach reflects the efficiency of agglomeration in cities: as cities grow more dense, carbon emissions grow at a lower rate. This per capita footprint benefit is significant - especially in a design context - but the real value of populated spaces is social energy and the exchange of ideas. Micro//Macro reflects this tension between designing for the qualitative and quantitative experience of the building, achieving interesting uses and efficiency of space. 


These ideas are a transformational model for all 9,000+ GSA buildings of this type, rethinking space, light, ventilation, and uses across the greater GSA system. Extending the activity of the building outside the site to reach the urban community establishes a relationship between citizen and government and building to neighbourhood.


Efficiency gains should be reinvested to reduce the environmental footprint across the GSA system. Savings from reduced energy costs should fund incentives for employees to reduce their vehicle miles traveled (VMT), by subsidizing public transit, carpooling, and supporting programs that strengthen the Downtown LA neighbourhood. Second, the reclaimed space is an opportunity to impact other GSA buildings: flexible onsite living spaces could induce employees to work where they live and newly recovered space would allow the GSA to consolidate buildings across a given region. 

Completed: 2011

Team: Laura Dempsey, Sarah Madden, Mary Anne Ocampo, Stephen Stock