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."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.