Architectural Wonders

NOAA Satellite Operations Facility, Suitland, Md.

Morphosis/Einhorn Yaffee Prescott

Government buildings were once characterized by white porticos and neo-classical columns, but Pritzker-prize winner Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis are creating a new vocabulary for government architecture. At the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's Satellite Operations Facility, to be completed next month, what could have been an operations bunker attached to a plain office building instead will become a symbol of the agency's mandate to observe and protect the environment.

The building's design minimizes its impact on the landscape, with as much of the site as possible kept as a grassy field, and the bulk of the building sunken into the ground -- even as it remains naturally illuminated (and energy efficient) through a series of skylights and courtyards. Only the "brain" of the building, the satellite control rooms, is raised above the ground, topped by an array of antennae. Its dramatic, aircraft-carrier-like form may seem like an architectural statement, but Mayne demurs, arguing that this is the building's purest form. "Our notion was just to stay out of the way," he says. Just as columns symbolize democracy, NOAA's satellite dishes stand for technology's role in protecting the planet.

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