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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

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
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
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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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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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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