Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

Student Design Competition - New San Francisco Federal Building Plaza

Student design competition seeks ideas to activate the public plaza at a renowned federal building in San Francisco!

General Services Administration

Total Cash Prizes Offered: $1,750
Type of Challenge: Creative (multimedia & design)
Submission Start: 08/28/2017 11:00 AM ET
Submission End: 11/22/2017 05:00 PM ET


[UPDATED 1/8/2018] We are pleased to announce the winning entries to the GSA Student Design Competition for the New San Francisco Federal Building Plaza. The competition challenged students to activate the existing plaza through program and design interventions. The jury evaluated 63 entries which met the submission guidelines and deadline requirements. Entries were evaluated against the judging criteria that were published in the competition announcement, which were Creativity, Context, Community, Feasibility, and Value. The more successful entries, including the winning entries, proposed a new program and offered creative new ways of using the plaza in order to activate the public space. While the competition awards three prizes, the jury felt that in light of the high number of excellent submissions, that they would like to recognize a fourth entry with a special honorable mention.

Honorable Mention – "San Francisco Federal Plaza Urban Garden," Nancy Spaulding The proposal involves an extensive landscape design renovation that features a substantial addition of trees and other plantings suited to the climate. The design features an educational "teaching garden," which might educate children from the childcare center within the building, as well as the general public. The featured planting would produce food for birds, insect pollinators, and humans. The improvements have the potential to attract visitors, including disadvantaged users, to the plaza. The proposal appeals to building occupants and addresses important community issues. Members of the jury imagine that the produce grown in the plaza could be served in the café in farm-to-table style. The proposal infuses the plaza with elements from the natural environment. The design addresses the needs of the site but does not inhibit future uses. The proposed forest engages visually with people in the upper floors of the federal building and adjacent buildings. The jury commends the urban garden proposal for its optimism.

Third Prize – "Allegro," by Dan Kaiser This entry proposes an intervention that blurs the distinction between art and landscape. The formally aggressive intervention is inspired by sound waves and the existing building's form, combined to create seating and play space that is intended to transform the space at night. The inclusion of relevant case studies was useful to understand the design intent and feasibility of this proposal. The design refines the café building to maintain the original urban design intent of having a strong, well-defined corner, while also addressing the proposed new plaza design. The jury commends the creativity and quality of this visually stimulating proposal, which creates the potential for success whether people occupy the space as intended by the proposal or not.

Second Prize – "Terraform," by Thomas Backman The entry proposes an ambitious renovation that is unique among the field of entries in that it proposed an entirely new programmatic use for the plaza. The proposed terrace enables occupants and the public to use this new semi-private space in new dramatic ways. The proposal entertains an expanded view of what is possible with the café and suggests the potential that the site may have for more retail and additional dining options to attract people and activate the plaza. The design establishes the plaza as a part of the city of San Francisco, borrowing symbols from the landscape of the city while preserving the national significance of the federal building. The entry acknowledges the layered contexts of the cultural landscape of the city and the rest of the country. The jury commends the proposal for the well-integrated consideration of programming, landscape, and architectural design.

First Prize – "Keeping Time," by Margaret C. Weighner The entry is rooted in a conceptually strong and engaging proposal with significant potential to activate the plaza, however it is implemented with an even handed approach that is both respectful and complimentary of the existing building design, artwork, and surrounding context. The proposal challenges conventional notions of landscape architecture and urban design with a highly creative and contemporary intervention, communicated through a professional-quality presentation. A "floating orb," traverses the site and beyond in motion reflective of the celestial movement of the moon, reminding visitors of the connection between the site, city, nation, and even the cosmos. The entry succeeds in explaining the general feasibility of the proposal through detailing an aluminum orb structure that would move along suspension cables while being illuminated by a heliostat. Visible at certain times from the busy pedestrian thoroughfares of nearby Market Street and United Nations Plaza, the orb extends the visibility of the plaza beyond the property line, engaging with both building occupants and the public. The entry inspired jury members to observe that the plaza could be further programmed as an art exhibition space for a series of similar conceptual art installations or performances that would be temporary or impermanent, citing MoMA PS1 in New York as a case study. Jurors used the words "thoughtful," "big-picture," and "conceptually bold," to describe this entry, and award it with the first prize in the competition.


First Prize

The First Prize winner will receive a prepaid American Express card with a $1000 credit.

Second Prize

The Second Prize winner will receive a prepaid American Express card with a $500 credit.

Third Prize

The Third Prize winner will receive a a prepaid American Express card with a $250 credit.


Eligibility. Only individual Submissions are allowed, no team Submissions. One Submission per Contestant is allowed. Contestant certifies through entering the Submission that they are currently full-time undergraduate or graduate student enrolled in an accredited architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, or related program. Contestant certifies through entering the Submission that they are a citizen or permanent resident of the United States of America.

Submission Rights. Each Contestant grants to GSA and others acting on behalf of GSA, a perpetual royalty-free non-exclusive worldwide license to use, copy for use, and display publicly all parts of the Submission. This license includes posting or linking to the Submission on the official GSA website and making it available for use by the public. This license further includes using the Submission or any portion thereof for the subsequent procurement of related architectural, planning, and/or design services. Contestants retain the right to simultaneously use their Submission for all other purposes, including but not limited to, inclusion of the Submission in sample work portfolios.

Publicity.  Except where prohibited, participation in the Challenge constitutes Contestant’s consent to GSA's and its agents' use of Contestant’s name, likeness, photograph, voice, opinions, and/or hometown and state for promotional purposes in any media, worldwide, without further payment or consideration.

Original Work, Plagiarism, and Copyright.  Contestant warrants that he or she is the sole author and owner of the Submission, and that the Submission is wholly original with the Contestant, and that it does not infringe any copyright or any other rights of any third party of which Contestant is aware.

Judging Criteria


Thom Mayne
Design Director, Morphosis
Brandon Welling
Managing Principal, Morphosis
Not Announced
GSA Architect
Not Announced
GSA Urban Design Professional
Not Announced
San Francisco Local Community Representative
Not Announced
San Francisco Federal Building Tenant Representative

Creativity - 20 percent

The Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture state that the government should produce facilities that reflect the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the federal government, emphasizing designs that embody the finest contemporary architectural thought; that avoid an official style; and that incorporate the work of living American artists. With these Guiding Principles in mind, submissions that demonstrate greater creativity, coherence, and clarity of vision in achieving the goal of activating the plaza will be considered more favorably. 

*Please note that the existing artwork located in the plaza and the façade of the building, "Skygarden," by James Turrell, must be preserved.

Context - 20 percent

GSA recognizes that good design is responsive to context. Special attention shall be paid to the general ensemble of streets and public places of which Federal buildings form a part; and that, where possible, buildings should permit a generous development of landscape. Submissions that address and respond to the physical context of climate and the built environment will be considered more favorably.

Community - 20 percent

GSA strives to leverage its real estate activity to support community goals. Submissions that demonstrate a superior understanding of local issues and community goals, and which address those issues and goals in compelling ways, will be considered more favorably.

Feasibility - 20 percent

Designs shall adhere to sound construction practice and utilize materials, methods and equipment of proven dependability, and shall be economical to build, operate and maintain, and should be accessible. Submissions that are technically feasible to implement will be considered more favorably.

Value - 20 percent

Part of GSA's mission is to deliver the best value in real estate services to government and the American people. Submissions that represent a high-value intervention that can be implemented more cost-effectively will be considered more favorably.

How To Enter

  1. Save Submissions in the latest version of Adobe Acrobat PDF.
  2. No paper or hardcopy Submissions will be accepted.
  3. Format the Submission on a single digital page that is no larger than one ARCH-E1 sized sheet (30”x42”) in the landscape orientation.
  4. The Submission may consist of still images (drawings, photographs, etc) and/or text, but must not contain animation, video, or sound.
  5. The Submission must be compliant with Section 508 for electronic document accessibility, generally meaning that all text must be machine-readable and all images must have machine-readable captions. Contestants are encouraged to use a tool similar to Adobe’s accessibility check tool within Acrobat to ensure that images are properly tagged with descriptive captions.
  6. The Submission’s file name shall be formatted as follows: “Username.PDF” using the Contestant’s username.
  7. The content of the Submission, in other words what is displayed to the jurors, must not bear any identifying information about the Contestant such as the individual’s name, likeness, or school.
  8. The file size must not exceed 20 megabytes.
  9. Use color profiles and fonts that are optimized for web-viewing.
  10. Upload Submissions to the website. Other means of submission will not be accepted.