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Natural Cool 

Workers at S.F.'s new "green" federal building endure temperature extremes due to buggy system

Wednesday, Apr 25 2007
The new $144 million federal building at 7th and Mission has been heralded as an architectural marvel, not to mention an example of how behemoth office buildings can go green. Everyone involved in the project has bragged about how the building will automatically regulate the indoor climate by adjusting screens that reflect light, and by opening windows to suck in cool air.

Or that's what is supposed to happen. Since the first workers took up residence in late March, they've been waiting for these heralded systems to kick into gear — and cursing while they work.

One federal civil servant posted a review on Yelp. "Believe me, your average federal employee HATES this building," wrote Janet T. She shared employees' complaints about the energy-efficient design features that the architects have been boasting about. The natural light flooding in through windows on the building's south side reduces the need for artificial lighting, but is making people wear sunglasses at their desks. The natural cooling system, which eliminates the need for air-conditioning above the fifth floor of the tower, is the other major glitch.

With some windows being automatically opened and closed by a distant computer, the workers don't have much control over their immediate environment. "Every 10 minutes, the windows open for five minutes then close for five minutes," Janet T. continued. "Those with window desks are freezing, everyone else is roasting."

Gene Gibson, a spokeswoman for the federal government's General Services Administration, said the building managers have heard the griping. "They've been having weekly orientation meetings with each agency as they move in to explain what's different about the building, what's unique about the building," she said. And while they're working hard to adjust the cooling system, "it may take six months [or] up to a year before everyone's comfortable," she said.

Gibson characterized the work being done as "tweaking." The automatic system that will tilt panels on the south side to reflect some light "isn't quite working yet," she conceded. So in the meantime, they've ordered interior shades so that workers will be spared from the glare. She also said that the building managers are working on the cooling system's kinks, but won't be able to make final adjustments until the last batch of workers arrive in their new offices at the end of this month, and the system can respond to the heat of all 1,500 bodies.

In the meantime, this should definitely reassure all those uncomfortable employees: The federal government is working on it.

About The Author

Eliza Strickland


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