In addition to developing buildings that embody “the dignity, enterprise, vigor, and stability of the American national government,” and the “finest contemporary American architectural thought,” the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) Design Excellence Program asks the architects it commissions to be site conscious and to respond sensitively to local communities and contexts. In the case of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s new South Florida headquarters, which happens to be located in Miramar, a city northwest of Miami, that context, in the words of Krueck + Sexton principal Mark Sexton, “is Taco Bell, on a good day.” Not satisfied with the fast-food chain as a design progenitor, the Chicago-based architecture firm instead took its cues from the location’s geographical history and prevailing climate.
Miramar (Spanish for “sea-view”) is actually some 13 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Named for a neighborhood in Havana, Cuba, it sits on land that for countless millennia before the city’s establishment in 1955 was tropical wetlands—the Sawgrass marsh and slough region of The Everglades. The previous owners of the 20-acre plot dumped 18-inches of gravel on it, thinking it would improve the site as a real estate prospect. Krueck + Sexton thought differently. It proposed restoring the wetlands and bringing them right up to the building. It was the only firm in the government’s short list to put forth the idea, and the GSA saw the value.
The office building itself had to accommodate 1,000 agents and workers. The architects wanted to connect them to the restored landscape through views as well as provide ample daylight on the interior while delivering a highly sustainable building. They laid out the structure’s 375,000 square feet on six floors in two parallel 60-foot wide bars connected by a perpendicular bar. The resulting H-shaped plan created a condition where, no matter where in the building you stand, you are never more than 30 feet from the natural light and views afforded by the glass curtain wall. The plan also created two semi-enclosed courtyards: one to the east that serves as the main entrance and combines a reflecting pool and a formally composed landscape, and one to the west for use by employees that is an extension of the restored wetlands.
Each floor varies slightly in plan, creating different experiences throughout the interior and changes on the elevation. The long outer north and south walls curve smoothly, as though responding to the sinuous waterways of The Everglades. Within the courtyards, the facades are fractured and faceted along hard lines, giving the building the feel of a geode.
Since such an envelope system could not be ordered out of a catalog, Krueck + Sexton worked closely with its consultants and fabricators to develop one. The resulting curtain wall is a unitized system outfitted with an IGU with a 3/8-inch outer lite of low-iron glass, a one-inch space filled with argon gas, and an inner lite made up of two ¼-inch laminated pieces of glass. The No. 2 surface of the inner lite has a low-e coating and a white ceramic frit pattern in a gradient: 20 percent for vision, 60 to 80 percent for spandrel, and 80 percent on the east and west faces, cladding the egress stairs. The inner piece of laminated glass is pyrolytic, made to attenuate infrared and radio frequencies.
In this latitude, the sun shines more or less from directly overhead. Through solar studies, the architects determined that the building would get the bulk of its solar loading and glare when the sun was low in the horizon. As a result, they arranged the solar shades, which are thick-gauge, 7 ½-foot-long sections of painted, perforated aluminum that are integrated into the unitized panel, in a diamond pattern. The unexpected application of this fairly standard sun mitigation equipment was entirely performance based, but it gives the building an interesting texture and anchors it solidly to its place.