Civic + Government
Inspired Civic and Government Designs Responding to Community Needs
More than 55 million constituents are served by Fentress Architects-designed civic buildings each year.
Civic and Government Architecture
Fentress Architects is guided by the humanistic ideals that a building must work well for its users as well as speak of and to its culture and community. Designing to context is the act of creating structures that love the ground on which they stand. We are mindful that architecture can impact the relationship of a community to its systems of government.
During the last fifty years we have seen entrances to our civic buildings not only brought down to street level from their previous two or three story rises, but also made more inviting with ample landscaping and transparent façades. Interior atria now welcome and orient, rather than overshadow and alienate patrons.
—Brian H. Chaffee, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C
More than 55 million constituents are served by Fentress Architects-designed civic buildings each year. As people engage with these facilities, they experience the remarkable accessibility, efficiency, stability, and dignity that have led to over 62 awards including:
- Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, TAP Building Information Model (BIM) Award, American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Chapter, 2013
- San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters, BEST Award, Downtown Alliance San Antonio, 2013
- North Las Vegas City Hall and Civic Plaza, Public Works Project of the Year, American Public Works Association, 2012
We, at Fentress Architects, are highly skilled at bringing civic buildings from concept through completion. The term ‘civic’ can refer to a wide variety of building types, each with its own unique set of programmatic requirements. Yet, there are some universal drivers; whether it be a city hall, county administration building, public safety facility, or military structure, all of these spaces are a direct result of community needs. Responding to community requires establishing a sense of place, purpose and civic order, enhancing community and occupant safety and security needs, and—particularly within democratic societies—reinforcing openness and accountability while also serving as a steward of the environment, building occupants, and constituents.
Civic design, when done well, not only achieves a building’s programmatic objectives, it also conveys and reinforces a sense of place, purpose, and the hallmarks of civic order: stability, permanence, and dignity. For the Clark County Government Center, Fentress Architects looked to the natural environment for inspiration. Here we adapted the sinuous curve of a desert wash because a canyon is to the desert what the town square is to the city. The enfolding shape allows the government center to serve as both a physical and metaphorical support for the community it serves. Contrastingly, designs for both the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve (OCAR) and the joint headquarters for Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) and U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC) were guided by the built environments in which they reside: the National Capital Region at Fort Belvoir, Virginia and the Old Post District of Fort Bragg, North Carolina respectively. While exuding civic order: with the help of straightforward circulation patterns and logical, forward-thinking allocations of space, Fentress Architects design for each facility is grounded in the unique geography of the site.
Civic projects often involve restorations, renovations, and adding on to existing structures. The Royal Norwegian Chancery in Washington, DC is a 30,000- square-foot expansion and renovation that welcomes visitors with a space both highly symbolic of Norway and complementary to the neoclassical design of the campus. Likewise, Sacramento’s City Hall was an addition and renovation as well as restoration. Decorative terra cotta elements were repaired and the functionally-inadequate 1970s annex was replaced with a two-story, administration building that houses a 220-seat city council chamber and embraces historic City Hall with a plaza that flows into adjacent César Chávez Park.
Through the often protracted process of creating civic architecture, I find myself sustained by the moments when I hear or see what is deepest in the heart of the people for whom we create– what is in fact the soul of a building that has yet to be made manifest. It is at these moments, that theory and trends become obsolete. Instinct and experience must guide the process. When done well, the result is an experience for the entire community–a structure that is civic in every sense of the word.
—Curtis Worth Fentress, FAIA, RIBA
Safty and Security
Generally speaking, there are four categories to be considered when designing for safety and security: fire protection, occupant safety and health, natural hazard mitigation, and risk reduction. Additional standards and guidelines may be required based on building type and geographic location. Whether its designing to the last seismic codes for projects like the Oakland Administration Buildings, which had been devastated by the Loma Pieta earthquake, or implementing wildfire-resistant guidelines for the Contra Costa County Administration Building, Fentress Architects is constantly engaged in helping create and implement industry standards and best practices. Buildings with first responder occupants like the 240,000-square-foot San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters can be targeted by human offenders and therefore benefit greatly from the application of cutting-edge technology aimed at mitigating blast and intruder threats.
The [Regional Transportation Commission and Regional Flood Control District Headquarters] courtyard is simple and restrained, non-bureaucratic; and the play between the courtyard and the external perimeter is remarkable.
— Jury comment, AIA Colorado Chapter
Protect and Serve
Civic design—particularly for democratic societies—has its paradoxes: security with accessibility, solidity with transparency, fortification with connection. Solving these paradoxes is one of Fentress Architects greatest strengths. With each project, Fentress Architects harnesses the power of architecture to solve the paradox: simultaneously protect and reveal.
Often the solution is also the means by which a building can serve as a steward to natural environment, building occupants, and constituents. Rising from Stockton’s historic and urban streets, the angled green-glass atrium of the San Joaquin County Administration Building is both blast-resistant and symbolic of the Sierra Nevada Mountains that rise from the horizon in Yosemite National Park. This technological feat helped earn the administration building, which surpasses Title 24 of the California Energy Code, a Gold LEED rating from the US Green Building Council (USGBC).
The California Department of Education Headquarters is also a remarkable example of sustainable building design. It was the second largest building in the world to achieve the USGBC’s LEED EB Platinum rating thanks to a design that stresses conservation through strategies including underfloor air delivery systems, façade-intergraded photovoltaics, and a plant-based pest management system. While this headquarters is a secure facility that requires all visitors to obtain temporary badges, it is also readily accessible and caters to the larger community with amenities including a nonprofit childcare facility and a state-of-the-art, 300-seat auditorium.
Similarly, North Las Vegas City Hall and Civic Plaza helped consolidate all of the city’s previously scattered services into a single, safe and secure building that also welcomes residents to enjoy outdoor performances and music festivals, attend City Council meetings, and easily access services including the public works department and permit application center.
Even the Russell-Knox Office Building located on US Marine Corps Base Quantico and deemed one of the most cutting-edge military investigative facilities in the United States faced a paradox: consolidation with independence. Russell-Knox serves five agencies—Defense Intelligence Agency, Defense Security Service, Naval Criminal Investigative Services, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and Army Criminal Investigation Command—in one USGBC LEED Gold-rated facility that also celebrates the independent identity of each agency and accommodates for their unique safety and security protocol.
Learn more about our civic and government capabilities, contact:
Brian H. Chaffee FAIA, LEED AP BD+C
13 Selected projects
Clark County Government Center
Royal Norwegian Embassy Renovation
North Las Vegas City Hall
San Joaquin County Administration
City of Oakland Administration
San Antonio Public Safety Building
Sacramento City Hall
Office of the Chief Army Reserve
Contra Costa County Administration Building
California Department of Education HQ
Russell-Knox Office Building