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United States Census Bureau Headquarters

Suitland, Md.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

General Services Administration

Award of Excellence

Government buildings are often boxy, cheap, and boring, designed more for the efficiency of those constructing them than for the people who have to work in them. The new headquarters of the U.S. Census Bureau is different: Clad in "blades" of a local native wood and no taller than eight stories, the vast complex was designed to blend into the surrounding woodland preserve. The sprawling, 2.5-million-square-foot campus cost $400 million. And the building is on course to receive Silver LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. The massive complex aims to maximize natural resources and minimize energy consumption by using locally harvested, sustainable building materials, recycling water, and making the most of natural daylight throughout. Its parking garages, which can house up to 3,000 vehicles, have roofs of ivy that are intended to pump oxygen into a fume-filled environment and conceal the eyesore from view. The main building unites some 6,000 federal employees who had previously been split among six locations. This means less time wasted traveling to and from meetings, thus improving worker productivity. Top executives at the bureau worked closely with SOM to create flexible workspaces, choosing warm colors for the interiors. Extensive facilities on every floor create an inviting environment that's a huge improvement over the previous World War II-era headquarters. On the ground floor, a thoroughfare known as Main Street runs the length of 11 football fields and contains facilities such as a fitness center, cafeteria, credit union, and stores, allowing people to meet for coffee or run errands.

Back to BusinessWeek/Architectural Record Award winners

Helen Walters is the editor for's Innovation and Design Channel .

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