Pattern 1: Floor Plate Geometry

Courtyard Plan

Pattern Filmstrip

Marshall-Field Wholesale Building


Location: Chicago, IL    1891-1930
Architect: H.H. Richardson
Floor Plate Area: 9940 sf
Perimeter Length: 620 ft
Max. Dist. to Perimeter: 23 ft
Percentage of Area Within 20’ of a Window: 96%


The Marshall-Field Wholesale Building, designed in 1890, was a very large building for its time. It covered the majority of a city block in Chicago and rose to seven stories. Despite its imposing scale, the functional aspects of the project were more nuanced. A central courtyard allowed for all areas of the interior to be illuminated from two sides, and created a thin plan that ensured that no portion of the building was more than 23 ft from a window. Beyond this, the floors consisted of open loft spaces facilitating the inter-reflection of light within the structure and balanced brightness across the section of the space.


Pattern 1: Floor Plate Geometry

Finger Plan

Pattern Filmstrip

1-2 General Motors Office Building 


Location: Detroit, MI    1917
Architect: Albert Kahn and Associates
Floor Plate Area: 59,000 sf
Perimeter Length: 2540 ft
Max. Dist. to Perimeter: 32 ft
Percentage of Area Within 20’ of a Window: 90%


The General Motors Office Building designed by Albert Kahn in 1917 exhibits a building organization that is fundamentally designed around the use of daylight as the primary source of illumination. Kahn designed a building that was almost entirely perimeter to maximize access to daylight. To do this he created thin “finger plan” bars that were spaced far enough apart from one another to avoid reducing access to daylight at the opposing office bar. The first floor, originally designed as an auto showroom covers an entire city block, far too deep to be daylit from the perimeter alone. However, rooftop skylights located between the office bars allow diffuse “toplight” to illuminate the center of the floor plate and to balance the brightness from the perimeter. Corridor spaces are deliberately illuminated at a very low level to allow users’ eyes to adjust to indoor light levels while moving toward their destination within the building.


Pattern 1: Floor Plate Geometry

Medium Depth Floor Plate

Pattern Filmstrip

Seagrams Building 


Location: New York, NY  1958
Architect: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 

Floor Plate Area: 15,300 sf
Perimeter Length: 536 ft
Max. Dist. to Perimeter: 56 ft
Percentage of Area Within 20’ of a Window: 65%


The Seagram’s building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Phillip Johnson, may be the most influential corporate office building ever built in the United States. Intentionally placeless, the Seagram’s building is an example of what is commonly called the International Style. This was a brand of Modernism that suggested that with the advent of technological machinery including electric lighting and HVAC systems, a building need not respond to its specific site, climate, or context. This building gave momentum to a growing movement to disengage from the provision of daylight in buildings. This is evidenced by the substantial increase in floor plate depth and the use of darkly tinted bronze glass. Thus, the Seagram’s Building spawned generations of corporate office towers in which the use of daylight as a source of functional illumination had minimal influence on the building organization. It should be noted, however, that the perimeter to core depth on the Seagram’s tower remains far narrower than most contemporary office buildings.


Pattern 1: Floor Plate Geometry

Deep Floor Plate

Pattern Filmstrip

Aon Center Tower 


Location: Chicago, IL  1972
Architect: Edward Durell Stone 

Floor Plate Area: 34,225 sf
Perimeter Length: 740 ft
Maximum Distance to Perimeter: 92’-6” ft
Percentage of Area Within 20’ of a Window: 39%


The Aon Center Tower (formerly the Standard Oil Building) is among the largest office towers in the United States. It encloses over 3.6 million square feet of area. The floor plate dimensions are nearly 185’-0” on a side. This offers considerable square footage to tenants, though consequently the vast majority of the interior floor plate has no access to daylight or views. This is compounded by the presence of a tube-frame perimeter structural system that reduced maximum window size to a diminutive 18 inches wide with very thick perimeter walls that substantially reduced the passage of daylight to the interior. Despite gains in floor area efficiency, the size and scale of the floor plate of similar structures has brought criticism both in terms creating an inhospitable urban presence and for its impact on the environmental quality of the spaces inside.


Pattern 1: Floor Plate Geometry

Contemporary Finger Plan

Pattern Filmstrip

Alliance Kai 


Location: Frankfurt am Main, Germany  1999
Architect: Hentrich Petschnigg and Partner 

Floor Plate Area: 55,600 sf
Perimeter Length: 2680 ft
Maximum Distance to Perimeter: 42 ft
Percentage of Area Within 20’ of a Window: 91%


Alliance Kai, designed in 1997 by Hentrich Petschnigg and Partner was commissioned based on a winning competition entry. The project consists of over one million square feet of floor area. It offers a model of how to create a very large office building without sacrificing daylight and views. The maximum distance from any point in the building to the perimeter is 42’-0”; however ninety-one percent of the floor plate is within 20 feet of a window. Consequently, the vast majority of the floor area falls within a daylit zone. This may arise, in part, from a custom in Germany of not placing any workstation more than 8 meters (24’-0”) from a window. The project sits on the Main River with a view to the skyline of Frankfurt. Much of the building opens up to these views with expansive windows. Glare and overheating are controlled by exterior automated venetian blinds that ensure persistent daylight performance on both clear and overcast days.


Pattern 1: Floor Plate Geometry

Contemporary Courtyard Plan

Pattern Filmstrip

Terry Thomas Building

Location: Seattle, WA   2006
Architect: Weber+Thompson

Floor Plate Area: 11,630 sf
Perimeter Length: 630 ft
Maximum Distance to Perimeter: 19 ft
Percentage of Area Within 20’ of a Window: 100%


The Terry Thomas Building was designed in 2004 by Seattle architecture firm Weber+Thompson. The floor plate, in many ways, harkens back to office buildings designed prior to World War II. Upon its construction it was noted that this was the first multi-story office building designed without air conditioning in Seattle in the past fifty years. Returning to a thin section courtyard plan, the Terry Thomas Building uses daylight to reduce internal heat loads from electric lighting during peak cooling times to enable passive cooling. To achieve this goal, no portion of the building is further than 19 ft from a window. Solar heat gains and glare are controlled through active and fixed shading devices.