Gregory Bateson Building

Sacramento, California

The Gregory Bateson Building in Sacramento, California is the flagship of the Energy Efficient Office Building Program (the first of its kind in the nation) initiated by Sim Van der Ryn during his tenure as California State Architect. Under Van der Ryn's direction, this 250,000 sq. ft. building and program pioneered innovative heating, cooling and daylighting strategies as well as various analysis methods such as computer modeling of building thermal performance which have become the standard for energy efficient building design.

In presenting its special award to Sim Van der Ryn, the California Council of the American Institute of Architects recognized his efforts as having:

"...effectively brought to public and legislative attention architectural concern for excellence in design of governmental buildings, the imperative need for energy conservation in all current and future public structures, and the major contribution which the private architect can make in achieving these goals."

The light and plant filled atrium is the social center of the building as well as a reservoir for cool night air which circulates through the building keeping temperatures pleasant even on the hottest summer days.

Annotated Building Section

This building includes a number of passive heating and cooling features which had never before been employed at the institutional scale. Post-occupancy evaluations show that the combination of these features has reduced the energy use associated with heating, cooling and lighting by more than 75% compared to typical office buildings of similar scale.

Why This is Called the Gregory Bateson Building?

Gregory Bateson, world renowned anthropologist, was Sim Van der Ryn's long time mentor and friend. In Sim's own words from the building's dedication ceremony:

Most of Gregory's life was spent trying to illuminate the wholeness that is in man and the natural world. We are all part of what Gregory called "the pattern which connects" which is the form of life itself. Gregory's search led in many directions: the function of language and thought; the nature of human cultures; biology; and the connection among living things.

In the last month of his life I asked him what single thing was needed for people to grasp a new way of looking at their world and he told me, "people are mad for quantity, yet what is significant is difference." And so it is with this building named to honor Gregory Bateson.

We found that designing a building to save energy and work with natural flows means designing a building that is sensitive to difference and results in a building that is better for people.

We found we could consider the wall of the building not as a static two dimensional architectural element, but as a living skin that is sensitive to and adapts to differences in temperature and light. We are not adapted to live or work at temperatures or lighting that are uniform and constant.

We are most alive when we experience subtle cycles of difference in our surroundings. The building itself becomes "the pattern which connects" us to the change and flow of climate, season, sun and shadow, constantly tuning our awareness of the natural cycles which support all life.

Maybe this is what esthetics and beauty are all about. Maybe what we find beautiful is that which connects us to an experience of difference - to an experience of the patterns of wholeness which distinguish the living world from the mere works of man.