The Caltrans District 7 Headquarters building, across the street from City Hall in the heart of downtown, is a living, breathing behemoth. With a mechanical skin that moves with the sun, it is alive in a way few, if any, other buildings are. The innovative 13-story, $190 million project, which opened in 2004, was the brainchild of architect Thom Mayne.


Developer: Urban Partners LLC, Los Angeles
Architect: Morphosis Architects, Santa Monica
Contractor: Clark Enterprises Inc., Bethesda, Md.
Engineer: John A. Martin & Associates Inc., Los Angeles


Not a lot of government buildings are known for their beauty and architectural ingenuity.


Enter Thom Mayne.


The renowned architect who won the 2005 Pritzker Prize considered the most prestigious award in the field designed the $190-million Caltrans District 7 Headquarters with a deftness and creative zeal that instantly put the building in the upper echelon of L.A. architecture, with the likes of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Getty Center.


With sharp, jutting edges and a big, bold attitude, the building has been drawing raves from many who have seen it since it opened in 2004. "It seems like it's been quite successful," the architect said, modestly.


Across the street from City Hall, the 13-story, 1.1 million-square-foot building is itself more than just a static box; it is almost a living, breathing entity, with a skin that moves in response to the sun. A system of perforated sheet metal that sheaths the structure moves as the sun passes overhead, allowing light in but keeping heat out.


Mayne honed his innovative design sense at USC and then at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design before founding the Southern California Institute of Architecture in 1972. He has designed other high-profile buildings, such as the Science Center School in Los Angeles and the University of Toronto Graduate House. And currently under construction is the Mayne-designed Phare Tower in Paris, which will be the second-tallest structure in the city when it is completed in 2012.


But as an L.A. architect with a global sensibility, the 63-year-old looks at his craft as more than the design of a few structures, rather it is a physical manifestation of the character and culture of a city.


"Architecture has the ability to concretize who we are our buildings represent who we are as a culture," he said. "In Los Angeles today it seems as if the architect/urban planner is really required to solve the problems we have."


And it was in this context that Mayne and the Santa Monica firm he founded in 1972, Morphosis Architects, designed the Caltrans building. With a 13-story atrium, he wanted the building to be more than just a place that people drove to for work and then drove home. He wanted it to be an open and inviting area for passers-by.


"We saw it as a continuation of the urban-friendly fabric of the city," he said.


- DEVELOPER: DANIEL ROSENFELD
Principal, Urban Partners LLC
Notable Projects: Del Mar Orange Line Station, Pasadena; Wilshire Vermont Red Line Station and California Endowment Headquarters
District 7 Headquarters: "The Caltrans District 7 Headquarters was the fastest, most affordable and most innovative public building ever constructed in California. It forced together a very divergent set of skills: a world-class design practice, hardnosed contractor and fairly rigid state bureaucracy."
Local Favorite: Griffith Park Observatory
Dream Project: A quarter-mile wide parkway along the entire Los Angeles River
L.A.: "We need an environmental master plan focusing on our priceless natural features: the beaches, mountains and river, followed by a public transportation plan to make these resources available to all our neighbors and then an increase in density at transit-served locations.


- CONTRACTOR: MARC KERSEY
Vice President, Clark Construction Group California LP
Notable Projects: The Los Angeles Convention Center; LAUSD High School #10; Flamingo Hilton Expansion, Las Vegas
District 7 Headquarters: "This was a once in a lifetime type of project. We were given a blank piece of paper and all the responsibility and control to make it happen."
Local Favorite: "I'd say the Disney Concert Hall. We like to say it was the best job we never got."
L.A.: "I believe the city is getting what it needs, starting with AEG's huge catalyst Staples Center and the L.A. Live Development. With the high-rise residential buildings and the new grocery store in town, downtown Los Angeles is becoming a full-time destination."
Construction: "It's a very exciting time to be building in Los Angeles and in California. Work is plentiful in a wide variety of markets."


- SUBCONTRACTOR, LIGHTING: HEATHER LIBONATI
Senior Lighting Designer (former), Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design Inc.
Notable Projects: Los Angeles City Hall fa & #231;ade; Red Rock Resort and Casino, Love Theatre for Cirque du Soleil, both in Las Vegas
District 7 Headquarters: "The schedule was really quick for a building of that scale and complexity. And there were a series of meetings with Caltrans and others, which added another level of complexity. I think it really improved the design."
Local Favorite: "I really like the new Gehry building at Redcat (CalArts' downtown performance venue.) I like the lighting in the lounge at Redcat."
L.A.: "I feel like the lighting in downtown could be improved. I'm not a huge fan of the street lighting fixtures used in downtown. At Caltrans we were forced to use some historic fixtures that were part of the urban context."


- ARCHITECT: THOM MAYNE
Principal, Morphosis Architects
Notable Projects: San Francisco Federal Building; University of Toronto Graduate House; Diamond Ranch High School, Pomona
Local Favorite: "Gosh, I'm not sure. Disney Hall is kind of interesting. But I'm going to be fairly narrow in my interests. The most interesting architects have been on a residential scale."
Dream Project: "A large metropolitan airport. It's really, really intriguing. They're being reinvented and they have highly integrated problems. It's a miniature city in a way."
Architecture: "Architecture has the ability to concretize who we are our buildings represent who we are as a culture."

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