Marin County Civic Center (1957), San Raphael, California
The Marin County Civic Center was designed in 1957 and completed after Wright’s death by Taliesin Architects Ltd. and Aaron Green. It is the only project designed by Wright for a governmental agency to have been built. The Civic Center includes the Marin County Administration Building (completed 1962), the contiguous Hall of Justice (1970), a free-standing federal post office (1962), and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium (1972).
The main building consists of the three story 580-foot long Administration Building and the four story 880-foot long Hall of Justice at a lower elevation, joined at a 120 degree angle at an 80-foot diameter rotunda. The Hall of Justice spans a small valley and arches twice over an access road and a parking area. The Administration Building spans a smaller ravine. Both buildings are entered through archways on their lower levels. The rotunda on the central hill houses the county library and a central cafeteria. The rotunda’s 172-foot gold spire is a concrete pylon clad in aluminum that rises from a terrace where the buildings join and was designed to serve as a ventilation tower and a radio antenna.
The interior offices are arranged around open atria or “malls” as Wright called them, which allow natural light into the space. Originally open to the sky, the malls were later covered with skylights designed by William Wesley Peters. Interior spaces feature glass walls to allow light to penetrate from the exterior and the atrium. The plexiglass covered court between the two buildings has plantings that can be viewed from the galleries at every level.
Circular courtrooms designed for the Hall of Justice have movable walls and partitions to accommodate the changing needs of county government. The original Hall of Justice design incorporated the Marin County Jail. As the jail outgrew its space, a number of proposals were advanced for a new facility adjoining the Civic Center. A new, mostly underground jail was completed in 1994 in the hilltop immediately to the west of the Hall of Justice, designed by AECOM with 222 cells and 363 beds. The jail connects to the Hall of Justice by an underground link.
The Post Office building is a one-story elliptical building near the entrance to the complex. Its facade repeats the arch motif, with circular embellishments on its canopy. The interior features and elliptical lobby.
The nearby Veterans Auditorium was designed by the Taliesin Associated Architects and was completed in 1971 in a manner compatible with the main complex. The auditorium was designed for use by the county fair with a combination of flat-floor exhibition space and tiered seating spaces.
Location: North San Pedro Road, San Rafael, CA, 94903
The building is open to visitors during normal business hours.
William Allin Storrer, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright (1995), #416.
Thomas A. Heinz, Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide (2005), pp. 25-26.
Robin Langley Sommer, “Marin County Civic Center,” Frank Lloyd Wright: A Gatefold Portfolio (1997), no page number.
“Marin County Civic Center,” Wikipedia.