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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

April 2004 Issue

Spiral Impact
The California EPA headquarters plaza symbolizes the state's geology and legislation.
By Mark Hinshaw

Spiral Impact Image Courtesy Mia Lehrer + Associates

One of the many jokes about Arnold Schwarzenegger being elected as governor of California is that when the Terminator finally sees what it's like to live in Sacramento, he will immediately demand a recall. As many such jokes do, it holds some truth. Like many state capitals, Sacramento has been a rather lackluster city. Big government buildings huddled around an otherwise lovely greensward anchored by a traditional, domed legislative building—the scene of many frenzied political skirmishes. But the town itself was a yawner.

However, in recent years the place has begun to crackle. It has a vibrant nightlife with upscale restaurants, sidewalk cafés lining the downtown mall, and a lively arts and culture scene. A district north of downtown is sufficiently filled with coffeehouses and art galleries that it might actually deserve to be called hip.

Downtown is even now seeing some buildings designed with an architectural distinction befitting a capital city. One such building is the new headquarters for the state's Environmental Protection Agency—a powerful administrative branch that carries out sweeping legislative mandates. No mean-spirited government compound, this 25-story structure is as sophisticated and elegant as any corporate tower. Designed by architects AC Martin Partners, it displays a dramatic profile on the skyline without any geometric gimmicks and exhibits a dignified, friendly urbanity on the street level where it counts. The facade is a complex arrangement of green-tinted glass, creamy stone, and finely crafted precast concrete.

And the best part is a gracious forecourt that both sets off the building and demonstrates the societal role of its occupant.

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