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Student Design Competition: New San Francisco Federal Building Plaza

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

Posted By: General Services Administration
Category: Ideas, Designs
Skill: Visual Media Interest: Local Government Submission Dates: 11 a.m. ET, Aug 28, 2017 - 5 p.m. ET, Nov 22, 2017

[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.


Meet the Jurors:

San Francisco Federal Building Architect: Thom Mayne

Thom Mayne founded Morphosis in 1972 as a collective practice involved in architecture, urban design, and research. Mayne’s distinguished honors include the Pritzker Prize (2005) and the AIA Gold Medal (2013). He was appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 2009. With Morphosis, Thom Mayne has been the recipient of 27 Progressive Architecture Awards, over 100 American Institute of Architecture Awards and numerous other design recognitions. Under Mayne’s direction, the firm has been the subject of various group and solo exhibitions throughout the world, including a large solo exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2006. Morphosis buildings and projects have been published extensively; the firm has been the subject of 33 monographs.

Throughout his career, Mayne has remained active in the academic world. In 1972, he helped to found the Southern California Institute of Architecture. Since then, he has held teaching positions at Columbia, Yale (the Eliel Saarinen Chair in 1991), the Harvard Graduate School of Design (Eliot Noyes Chair in 1998), the Berlage Institute in the Netherlands, the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, and many other institutions around the world. There has always been a symbiotic relationship between Mayne’s teaching and practice, evidenced in his concurrent position as Executive Director of the Now Institute at UCLA, a research and design initiative focusing on applying strategic urban thinking to real world issues. He is a tenured Professor at UCLA Architecture and Urban Design since 1993.

San Francisco Federal Building Project Architect: Brandon Welling

Brandon Welling is Managing Principal of Morphosis and a licensed architect with more than twenty years’ experience in the field. Joining Morphosis in 1996, Welling has designed and delivered complex building projects at multiple scales, ranging from highly specialized interiors to large multi-use facilities. He served as Project Architect for the San Francisco Federal Building, and Project Principal of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas. As well as overseeing the daily operations of the firm, Welling is currently Project Principal of the new US Embassy campus in Beirut, Lebanon.

Parallel to his professional practice, Welling is a committed educator, giving lectures and serving on student juries at institutions across the country. In 2008, Welling co-led The Now Institute graduate research studio at UCLA with Thom Mayne, where the students collaborated with the Make It Right Foundation to design and construct an amphibious resilient housing prototype for post-Katrina New Orleans. Welling received his BArch and BS in Environmental Design from Ball State University and the Technical University, Berlin. He is an avid architectural photographer whose images have been published and exhibited worldwide.

San Francisco Local Community Representative: Tracy Everwine

Tracy Everwine is the Executive Director of the Central Market Community Benefit District (CMCBD). The organization manages one of San Francisco’s largest and most dynamic property-based improvement districts providing service, advocacy, research and information to improve the neighborhood for businesses, residents and visitors. Everwine joined the organization in 2013 and has worked to strengthen the District by working closely with City and County of San Francisco to ensure services meet the ever-changing needs of the District’s diverse stakeholders; and leveraging CMCBD resources to spur new investment in the organizations’ work and positive impact on the community.

Prior to her tenure at CMCBD, Everwine worked extensively with business and property owners, community-based organizations, municipalities and the public to develop and implement holistic community economic development programs.

Everwine is a graduate of UC Berkeley, a member of Commercial Real Estate Women of San Francisco, Lambda Alpha International, San Francisco Planning and Urban Research and the Urban Land Institute. Everwine is a past Board member for Community Awareness and Treatment Services/CATS and CREW SF. In her spare time Everwine volunteers with seniors and youth employment training programs, and leads contemporary art tours domestically and internationally for arts patrons and collectors.

San Francisco Federal Building Tenant Representative: Cate Kortzeborn

Cate Kortzeborn is the Deputy Regional Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Region IX, serving more than 16 million beneficiaries and consumers who get insurance from Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the ACA exchanges. Kortzeborn worked for twenty years in the private sector as a healthcare executive prior to joining the federal government in 2004. Before embarking on a career in healthcare, she fully expected to become a high school English teacher and still isn’t quite sure what happened. She lives in San Francisco, California.

GSA Urban Design Professional: Frank Giblin

Frank Giblin is the director of the Urban Development/Good Neighbor program in GSA’s Office of Design and Construction in Washington DC. Frank works with GSA’s Design Excellence, historic preservation, sustainability, security design, and other business lines as the Agency’s lead advocate for responsible and collaborative development and sound urban design. The program provides onsite technical expertise, policy guidance, and best practices to GSA leadership and regional offices around the country to develop federal projects in ways that support community goals. Under his direction, the program has established a reputation for developing innovative and successful concepts, tools, publications, and techniques for incorporating public input into the design and management of federal facilities. Giblin is a member of the American Planning Association and a certified planner.

GSA Architect: David Leites

David Leites is a licensed architect for GSA in California. He received a  degree in Architecture from UC Berkeley and was a designer at Legorreta+Legorreta Arquitectos in Mexico City. He joined GSA in 2006 as a project manager in the Region 9 Design and Construction Division. Leites has since helped deliver several new construction and major renovation projects across the region, including the San Francisco Federal Building. He now leads the regional Design Excellence and Urban Development teams under the Regional Chief Architect.


GSA thanks all of the students who participated in this design competition. GSA also thanks the jurors for their participation and service. We also thank the following organizations which helped make this competition a success:

  • American Institute of Architecture Students
  • Central Market Community Benefit District
  • City of San Francisco Planning Department
  • Morphosis Architects
  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • SOMA Leadership Council
  • SOMA Philipinas
  • South of Market Business Association
  • SPUR
  • Tenderloin Housing Clinic
  • Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The winning entries are made available here on the site under the Solutions tab.



Continuing a legacy of outstanding public architecture, the General Services Administration (GSA) Design Excellence Program seeks to commission our nation’s most talented designers and artists to design federal buildings of outstanding quality and value. These projects are to demonstrate the value of true integrated design that balances aesthetics, cost, constructability, and reliability; create environmentally responsible and superior workplaces for civilian federal employees; and give contemporary form and meaning to our democratic values.

In this context, the GSA invites students in architecture, landscape, and urban design programs to envision a design intervention that activates the New San Francisco Federal Building plaza. Winning ideas will also address the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, building tenant needs for the facility, community goals, feasibility, and will also achieve the best value for the American taxpayer through good design. The intervention may take the form of physical renovation of the plaza, programming new use(s), and/or some other means of transformation designed to activate public space.

The New San Francisco Federal Building located at 90 7th street in San Francisco, California, was designed by Morphosis. The project was designed between 1999 and 2002. Construction began in 2003 and was completed in 2007. This year celebrates its 10th year of occupancy.

The distinctive building has become a landmark in San Francisco. Its layout and functions celebrate the importance of the city and the urban environment, combining amenities and public space that are designed to enhance the immediate area and the adjacent neighborhood. The offices support the energy and spirit of those who work there and those who visit. Its systems are outstanding examples of integrated engineering and sustainable design, reflecting the wise stewardship of limited resources. Together, these attributes make this a project that has stimulated critical interest.

The building is a model of GSA’s Design Excellence program. As a public space, the original vision for the plaza was that it would be a welcome civic space that is flexible and allows for outdoor dining, concerts, and markets. Since the completion of the project 10 years ago, only the cafe uses the plaza for outdoor dining, and no concerts, markets, or any other public functions have used this space. This competition seeks ideas that activate the plaza for the benefit of the building users and general public.


Please post any questions about the competition on the Discussion Board. GSA will respond to questions posted on the Discussion Board as soon as we can. In order to be fair to all contestants, we may not be able to answer questions posted to the discussion board after 5pm Eastern (2pm Pacific) on Monday 11/20/2017.


Building profile page on

Downloads available for use in preparing Submissions:

GSA SFFB Whitebook





Thom Mayne
Design Director, Morphosis Architects
Brandon Welling
Managing Principal, Morphosis Architects
David Leites
Architect/Project Manager, GSA Region 9 Design and Construction Division
Frank Giblin
Director of the Urban Development/Good Neighbor program, GSA Office of Design and Construction
Tracy Everwine
Executive Director of Central Market Community Benefit District
Cate Korzeborn
Deputy Regional Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Region IX Department of Health and Human Services
Judging Criteria


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.
First Prize $1,000.00 The First Prize winner will receive a prepaid American Express card with a $1000 credit.
Second Prize $500.00 The Second Prize winner will receive a prepaid American Express card with a $500 credit.
Third Prize $250.00 The Third Prize winner will receive a prepaid American Express card with a $250 credit.

24 Discussions for "Student Design Competition: New San Francisco Federal Building Plaza"

  • ebeidel1
    Folks, The site is currently experiencing issues related to file sizes for submissions. We will provide an update on this discussion board when the issue has been resolved. Until then, if you encounter an error message when trying to submit through the site, please send your submission as an attachment to us at: Please indicate in the body of the email that you accept the terms and conditions of the challenge -- this will take the place of the box you would check when submitting through the site. Please also send any other communications about technical issues with the site to us at: We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you for your patience, and good luck!

    • Reply
      Jiayu Zheng, it looks as though you were able to submit successfully. If you have any additional issues, please feel free to email us at Thanks and good luck!

  • Show Replies [+]
    We are 9 landscape architecture students new to uploading competition entries to GSA. We have uploading completed files, tried multiple browsers, file sizes, on and off campus servers and nothing is working. We are trying to send it from MACS and Window laptops and neither are working. Is there anything you can suggest? We don't want to miss the deadline...

    • Reply
      Hi Jrnaderi, It sounds like there may be a technical issue with the website, or possibly with your computer(s). I will forward your message to the technical support team at, but you should also contact the support team directly with your issue. Keep in mind that students need to create their own account on and upload their submission (ie "solution") from their own account. One individual should not be uploading multiple submissions on behalf of others. The deadline to submit has not changed and is still 5 p.m. ET, Wednesday, November 22, 2017.

    • Reply
      jrnarderi, it looks as though this issue is resolved. If you have any additional issues, please feel free to contact the team via email at Thanks and good luck!

  • Show Replies [+]
    Toby A.
    Hi, I am struggling to make clear sense of the plan. I was wondering if there could be a plan with a clearer representation of the the base of the building (solid) and the overhanging features (dashed) uploaded? Also existing trees are not shown in the plan. Many Thanks, Toby

  • Show Replies [+]
    Martin S.
    If we will be enrolled in an accredited program sometime between February - April 2018, can we still submit to the contest? I've had a hiccup and am currently in the process of transferring to another school, which means I am technically not enrolled in a program right now.

    • Reply
      Hi Martin, The rules are that you must be both a student AND enrolled in an eligible program. When you upload a submission, you will be required to check a box on the web-form to certify that you meet the eligibility rules. If you are enrolled by the time you are ready to upload your submission, then you are welcome to submit at that time, provided that you also meet the deadline for this competition.

        • Reply
          Hi Jiayue, My understanding is that F-1 visas are a type of non-immigrant visa and do not authorize permanent residence in the United States. Please contact the Department of State, or the Department of Homeland Security US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if you have any specific questions about your immigration or residency status.

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Solutions View as List
Project Title: TerraForm Username: tb12575
I had to compress this so much that hopefully the quality didn’t suffer to much!  Thank yo

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.

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