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With the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the Governmental Services Administration (GSA) embarked on a series of security upgrades for its holdings throughout the United States. The Harold Washington Social Security Building, which occupies a full city block in Chicago, was not only in need of structural repair, but also was perceived to be over-exposed to potential terrorist threats. Once a program was developed to secure most of the site’s perimeter, Jacobs/Ryan Associates (JRA) was asked to blend these programmatic elements – site walls, limited access and concentrated seating areas near the entry only – together with respect for existing conditions, good principles of on-structure landscape design, a wish for no lawns to cut and City of Chicago Streetscape requirements. The client asked for something distinctive while deterring mischief.  

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JRA worked closely with both the architects and engineers to shape the spaces of the urban on-structure plaza. The challenge was to incorporate perimeter security while maintaining an open public amenity. Street trees were planted in grates with tree pits surrounded by structural soil. Seating was aggregated into the entry plaza side by building up soil mass on the structural plaza. Plantings were chosen for variety of interest and were relegated to heights below 30” and tree branches above six feet. Plant beds were lit with security lights. Boulders were chosen to symbolize the structure, stability, strength and permanence of the Social Security Administration.

Client: United States GSA; Architect: Voy Madeyski Architects, Ltd; Engineers: Wiss, Janney Elstner Associates, Inc; Landscape Contractor: Church- A Valley Crest Company

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  www.jacobsryan.com (p) 312.664.3217 / (f) 312.337.1550   1527 N. Sandburg Terrace, Chicago IL 60610