Category Archives: Project Spotlight

Raising the Bar

Jean Nayar

Known for his high risk efforts in advancing an eco-friendly mission for decades, Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, has fueled the ever-growing environmental movement in America since he organized the first Earth Day in conjunction with then-Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970. Thanks to his efforts as a leader on environmental issues, sustainable strides in this country have been taken on multiple fronts. And if his most recent bet on creating the first significant net positive energy office building in the country pays off, then the world will likely be inspired to get a whole lot greener in the years ahead.


The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center stands as a shining example of the accomplishments Hayes and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

Hayes opted to develop the building after searching to no avail in Seattle for environmentally sensitive office space that would meet his criteria. “We were looking for offices that reflected our values,” says Hayes, adding that “our focus is on human ecology with an emphasis on how we can design built environments that are proper, healthy habitats for our species.” Once the head of the Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter Administration, Hayes continues to advance environmental initiatives supported by the Bullitt Foundation, which offers grants to organizations working on environmental projects in the Pacific Northwest. The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center, which is owned by the Bullitt Foundation, stands as a shining example of the accomplishments he and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement.

The structure was designed to achieve certification as a Living Building, which is significantly more ambitious than LEED Platinum certification. To meet it, a building must generate as much energy as it uses each year and use rainwater for all purposes, including drinking. It must also meet lofty standards for eco-friendly materials and indoor air quality. Located on a site that was a forest filled with Douglas fir trees before European settlement, the building was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function, says Hayes, as a tree would. “Not only does it provide shelter and sustenance for its users, like a tree would for deer, elk, birds, and squirrels, it also produces its own energy from the sun and rain, it doesn’t produce toxins, and it recycles its waste as nutrients.”


The Bullitt Center was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function as a tree would. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

Since the Bullitt Foundation operates with only seven employees and needed just 4,000 square feet for its own business, the building was designed to be leased out to additional tenants to make it commercially viable. Among the numerous companies and organizations that have opted to occupy the building are the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, which defines the standards for Living Building certification, various small companies, and a substantial engineering firm, which completely tailored its business processes to drive down its energy demand by 82 percent with no loss in productivity or convenience. “We tell our tenants how many kilowatt hours of energy they’re allowed to use, and if they exceed it they pay a stiff penalty for high energy bills,” says Hayes.


The Seattle office of the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, calls the Bullitt Center home. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

The building relies on solar energy to meet its electricity needs, so educating tenants on ways to reduce consumption is necessary to keep the building’s energy use in check. Yet, since the building began operating about two years ago, its energy generating and energy conservation systems not only allow it to meet all of the energy needs of the Bullitt Foundation and other tenants in the building, but also enable it to produce more energy than it consumes, making it the first commercial office building of its size in the U.S. to operate as a net positive energy structure, generating 60 percent more energy than it used in 2014. “The Energy Use Index (EUI) for an average office in Seattle is 95, under our new energy code the index will fall to the low 50s, for LEED Platinum buildings it reaches the low 30s, and for our building we aimed for 16,” says Hayes. “But it has exceeded our wildest hopes. Our EUI in 2014 was 9.4, making it by far the most efficient office building in America.” Its excess power is sold back into the electrical grid for use by others.

A few of the building’s other eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage, composting toilets, and project certification from the Forest Stewardship Council—the first office in the U.S. to achieve this status. The building also excludes 362 “Red List” elements that are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or endocrine disrupting. Materials and furnishings devoid of “Red List” elements were also chosen by Robin Chell, principal of Seattle-based RCD, who worked with the Bullitt Foundation to design the interiors of its own offices. “Because we needed to avoid products that contained elements on the “Red List,” everything was rigorously scrutinized and had to be formaldehyde free,” explains Chell.


A few of the building’s eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage and composting toilets. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

The Bullitt Foundation also needed soft furnishings that would serve as acoustical buffers in the space. So, in keeping with the notion of biomimicry, which guided the design of the building’s mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems, Chell chose felt art works, wool-upholstered soft furnishings, and earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection.  “We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Chell explains. “So we started with the carpet, which inspired the tones of the other elements. Aside from offering environmentally friendly products, Interface has an amazing array of design innovations that are almost always ahead of the curve,” Chell adds. Honored with IIDA’s People’s Choice award last year, Chell’s design is ultimately as eco-friendly as it is practical and appealing to the eye.


In keeping with the notion of biomimicry, Robin Chell Design chose earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection for the space occupied by the Foundation. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography


“We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Robin Chell explains. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography

Since Seattle’s climate is often cloudy and gray, creating a six story building that relies on solar energy to meet its power needs was risky. But Hayes was convinced that the potential return on the investment made taking the chance worthwhile. “Other buildings have been designed to meet these sustainable standards, but they are small—usually 2,000-6,000 square feet,” he says. “We wanted to dramatically increase the scale and felt it was doable. Even if we set out and failed, we thought it was still a heroic leap, so we decided why not aim for the moon and give it a shot? We wanted to be taken seriously not only by the academic community, but also by those who actually build.”

Judging by the number of tours (about six per week) that the Bullitt Center hosts in its building for developers, architects, and facility managers, Hayes appears to have succeeded in capturing their attention. And if the building achieves Living Building certification, which it hopes to do later this year, the building will no doubt generate even more interest.

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Posted in Category Biomimicry, Biophilia, Biophilic Design, Design Inspirations, Project Spotlight, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Oh What a Difference We Can Make

Deb France

On Wednesday, Aug. 27, students returned to Reynolds High School in Portland, Oregon after the summer break. Media were gathered at the curb and security officers were poised to guide the parents, students, faculty and community members on a guided tour of the gym. This was only 47 days following a tragic shooting in the locker room where freshman Emilio Hoffman was shot and killed by a fellow student, and a teacher was injured before the shooter took his own life.

“The space has been transformed,” says Superintendent Linda Florence. “Remodeling the building plays a key role in helping students feel safe again.”


Reynolds High School students excitedly gathered around a new video wall during the opening of the renovated gym lobby.

My firm, Oh planning+design, architecture, was working with the school district on summer projects that included a renovation of the locker rooms where the shooting occurred. I received the call after the June 10 tragedy that the gym lobby was damaged from the shooting and needed to be included in the design. The construction crews were already prepared to start work on the locker rooms, with only 46 days remaining until the new school year began.

There was no doubt that we had to renovate the lobby area, but time was going to be tight!  Design plans needed to be drawn, knowing that accessing available building materials within such a short timeline would be difficult. This had to be a project that represented the entire building community. If we approached all the needed improvements in a unified way, we could do more. The lobby transformation could only be completed if the materials were selected from overstock and readily available products.

We wanted to provide a sense of renewal, safety and hope to the students when they returned, so I made it my mission to personally reach out to the materials suppliers and ask them for whatever they could offer, including donations. The response was immediate and overwhelming. The outpouring of help was very touching and really sent a strong message of unity and support to the school, students and families. Each community member has a role in forming a safe environment for learning.

The project architect, Jackie Gilles, and the team at Oh planning+design, architecture, as well as contractors from Centrix Construction, worked long days and weekends to build the expanded design and install the donated materials. It was incredible to see how the design and construction team pulled together to make this project happen at lightening speed.

One of the first companies to respond was Interface. Interface was a natural fit for this project because of their support of the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools and their shared commitment to provide safe and healthy learning environments through the Green Apple Day of Service. When they received the call to participate, they did not hesitate even for a moment. Interface donated 1000 square feet of the entry walk-off carpet for the two main entrance doors.


All of the building materials were wholly or partially donated, including the Interface carpet tile for the lobby entry-way.

Thanks to Interface and other manufacturers, no part of the gym lobby was left untouched. All materials were wholly or partially donated to make this a success. Other donations were received from Designtex, Pacific Window Tinting, 3M, JS Creative Arts, Viridian, 9Wood, Hunter Douglas, Beynon Sports, EB Bradley, Lumicor, Lewis Audio Video, Armstrong, Inpro, Miller Paint and Daltile.

The collaboration transformed not only the physical environment, but also the hearts of the students who attend Reynolds High.

Deb France is the founding principal at Oh planning+design, architecture in Portland, Oregon.

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New Direction. Fresh Start.

Jean Nayar

A new corporate headquarters facility serves as the foundation for a culture change that has driven Biogen into a new era of growth

When George Scangos took over as CEO of the biotech giant Biogen in 2010, he brought with him a bold new vision that laid the foundation for a new phase of explosive growth. “Coming into the company, he hoped not only to launch three to four new products over the next three years, but also to change and improve the culture of the company,” says Ed Dondero, director of real estate and planning for Biogen. “Among the steps he took to move the company into a dynamic time was to change the way our people work to reflect what he estimated us to become—a rapid-growth company.”

Unfortunately, the design of Biogen’s headquarters building in Weston, Massachusetts, contrasted with Scangos’ vision of how the company’s employees should most effectively work. So he undertook an effort to locate a new site and design a whole new headquarters facility that would take the company into a new era. And the new 507,000 square-foot, multi-structure headquarters and R&D facilities completed last fall have been instrumental in driving the culture change that is taking Biogen to a higher level of productivity and growth. “His idea for changing the culture turned out to be spot on,” says Dondero.


Biogen Research & Development designed by NELSON. Photography by Halkin Mason Photography.

Designed by the Boston office of the global firm NELSON, the new headquarters facility promises to provide Biogen the flexibility it needs to readily adapt and change as it continues to evolve. It also facilitates the collaborative, top-down/bottom-up approach to working that Scangos envisioned. Yet, its success, says the facility’s lead designer, Micheal Bourque, can ultimately be attributed to the interactive approach through which it was developed. “Ed Dondero initiated a pilot project to test some of our concepts, and we learned that we got a lot wrong,” says Bourque. “It wasn’t an inclusive process for the employees, and it turned out that the layout and major circulation ideas didn’t work for them and that going completely to a desking system was too radical for the Biogen culture.” So they teamed with ARC, a change management division of Steelcase, and undertook in-depth interviews through all levels of the company along with an employee town hall session that enabled employees to participate in the development of the design. “The process became educational for the employees and with the feedback we received on concepts developed through the interactive design process, we were able to move forward full steam ahead,” says Bourque.


Biogen Research & Development designed by NELSON. Photography by Halkin Mason Photography.

Ultimately, the new headquarters spaces are divvied up between two new facilities—a 200,000 square-foot research and development facility and a 307,000 square-foot office space for general administrative functions, such as human resources, legal, finance, and IT. These are situated in an urban campus context in downtown Cambridge and adjoin two historic buildings that are also part of the headquarters complex and house a community lab and training center. The end results for the new buildings are open-plan office spaces with plenty of natural light for everyone, including the CEO. “We thought we might have 20 percent enclosed space, but instead we wound up with completely open work areas with gestures of boundaries,” says Bourque.

The workspaces are defined with a desking system that was customized for a measure of privacy with 42” high panels. “A modified, more open panel system was definitely preferred,” says Bourque. As a trade-off for so much open space, the designers developed plentiful huddle rooms, a collection of enclosed spaces with as many seats as there are desk seats. “These are unscheduled two- to six-person nooks or team rooms that people can duck into for impromptu meetings,” says Bourque. Each building also contains different shared elements, such as a cafeteria, daycare space, and fitness center, which draw employees housed in one facility to the other and keep people interacting.


Biogen Research & Development designed by NELSON. Photography by Halkin Mason Photography.

In higher density open spaces, incorporating elements that can absorb sound are critical to maintaining a viable acoustic environment for working. Among the elements that support proper acoustics are a white noise system, fabric-covered panels, and carpet. The choice of carpet tiles from Interface was also critical in physically defining work zones and enabling the space to be adaptable. “Because the space needed to be flexible, we opted to install a 4” raised floor with electrical and data systems running beneath it,” says Bourque. “This allows changes to be made overnight and steered us toward selecting the carpet tile, which is equally flexible, as flooring.”

Even the color scheme of bright blues, greens, and reds, which is evident on walls and many of the carpet tiles, reflects a new kind of energy that now brims throughout the office spaces. The variegated carpet tiles also enabled the designers to flexibly define ever-changing work areas with minimal expense and fuss. “In addition to the huddle rooms, we created what we call ‘cloud areas’ that are easy-to-assemble and easy-to-move 10’x20’ or 20’x20’ enclosed rooms. A concentration of carpet tile in a single color gives employees a cue as to where these spaces are located,” says Bourque. “The fact that the carpets are sustainably manufactured is a bonus,” adds Dondero.


Biogen Research & Development designed by NELSON. Photography by Halkin Mason Photography.

So what is the upshot of the inclusive design process in the new headquarters of the second largest biotech company in the world? One measure of its success, says Bourque, is that decisions are being more efficiently made in an unscheduled manner, which was reported to the design team in an informal post-occupancy survey and corroborated by the fewer documented bookings of the large conference rooms. Another is the positive reception of the space by employees, says Dondero. “At the start of the process we ran a survey and found that only 10 percent of the employees were in favor of a more open-plan concept,” he says, “after 90 days of occupation, 92 percent were either neutral or favorable toward the new space.”

With such a dramatic culture change, it may come as little surprise that the company is now also experiencing the unprecedented growth its new CEO envisioned.

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On Top of Their Game

Jean Nayar

Re:Vision designs a new state-of-the-art headquarters facility for real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle that reflects best practices in commercial design across the board.

If there’s anyone who can truly appreciate the value of well-developed property it’s a real estate professional. So when the powerhouse global real estate advisory and investment management firm Jones Lang LaSalle prepared to relocate its Philadelphia headquarters recently, it was very clear about its requirements—and its intentions to demonstrate to its clients a workspace that would be well ahead of the curve in every way. After interviewing a group of design firms to create its new space, the company’s management honed in on Philadelphia-based Re:Vision Architecture for their ability to think outside the box.

“We were an unconventional choice for JLL because we’re a niche firm that focuses on sustainable design,” says Drew Lavine, Re:Vision’s lead architect on the project. “But they wanted something different and we demonstrated a real commitment to innovation.” JLL’s primary aim was to develop a state-of-the art regional hub that would serve as a functioning example to its clients of innovative practices in tenant fit-outs. “They wanted a space that would reflect their culture and their collaborative work approach,” explains Lavine. “And they also wanted a sustainable design that would meet LEED Platinum standards.”

At the outset of the project, Re:Vision facilitated collaborative programming sessions with JLL to define and develop consensus-based space needs. With a clear sense of its organizational foundation, the architects worked with the client to assess a series of premier locations in the Philadelphia central business district, doing qualitative and comparative analyses of base building systems and amenities as well as space conditions such as views, light, and orientation. They also worked out test fits of the program to the actual spaces for layout efficiency and design concepts, which ultimately led to the selection of a 10,000-sq. ft. space for 40 employees in a Class-A office tower at 1650 Arch Street.


Innovation was a key concept driving the design. “The client really wanted to express a sense of the firm’s vitality, not through excess, which is more common in real estate, but through innovation,” says Lavine. “So we emphasized innovation throughout in our space planning, in our integration of technology, and in our sustainable approach to design from day one.” Like any good real estate professional, JLL is particularly focused on the needs of its clients, who are involved with both commercial office space as well and industrial real estate. “JLL isn’t just brokering deals, it also serves as owner’s representative through design and construction and leasing and property management, too,” says Lavine. To visually inspire both groups of clients on first impression with their design, the architects challenged the spatial and material conventions of Class-A office space by exposing and polishing structural concrete floors, detaching ceilings and exposing deep steel beams, creating freestanding, transparent rooms in large open spaces, and defining public and work spaces with industrial materials, such as plywood and blackened steel.

To address the company’s collaborative approach to working, the architects developed a dynamic workplace organized around “neighborhoods,” which include a mix of structured and informal meeting spaces to accommodate different modes of collaboration. “As they move further away from paper-based working, their work style has become more akin to working in a café than in an office and flexibility was key to the design to accommodate future growth,” says Lavine. Among the different meeting areas anchoring the two ends of the office are a state-of-the art conference room designed for global teleconferencing and an informal café that functions as the multi-use heart of the office. Small zones with lounge seating offer additional relaxed areas for small group interaction. From a planning vantage point, JLL chose to move toward fewer assigned workspaces and more workspace sharing options. Rows of desks in collective work areas were designed to accommodate more “densified” seating over time as the workforce grows. State-of-the-art AV and networking interfaces allow for a variety of collaborative interactions.

Setting the sustainability bar as high as possible, JLL and Re:Vision also aimed for LEED Platinum certification—and the project is the first to achieve it for Commercial Interiors in Center City Philadelphia.

Among the broad cross-section of sustainability strategies employed, the architects reduced built space by more than 20 percent than the original program and more than 30 percent than the original RFP. This unbuilt space translated to a significant reduction in environmental impact not just through the embodied energy involved for new construction but also through reduced energy use over time. Through smart design and fixture selection, they also created a base lighting system that is 23 percent more efficient than code minimums. Plus, advanced occupancy and daylight harvesting controls from Lutron bring this efficiency to more than 50 percent better than code. The architectural and furniture design allow access to daylight and views from every workstation and all collaboration spaces.

One hundred percent of JLL’s furniture from its previous office was diverted from landfills, either by reusing it in the new space or sending it to corporate storage for use in future offices, and more than 60 percent of construction and furniture material was manufactured regionally. The custom carpet tiles from Interface offer high design, low-cost, sustainable characteristics and adhesive-free installation using TacTiles®, which made them a top choice for the architects in the office and conference areas.

In sum, the new headquarters space of this dynamic international real estate firm deftly reflects its culture and supports its business, and also proves JLL’s commitment to walking the talk of well-developed, well-managed, and sustainably designed real estate.


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Functionality and Timeless Design: Presbyterian Senior Living


Meeting Expectations From the Floor Up

When Presbyterian Senior Living (PSL) decided to install Interface carpet tile in six of its many mid Atlantic locations, it was for two key reasons—functionality and timeless design. With the task of managing home-like living and resident care, PSL needed a flooring product that not only met various codes for senior living environments, but from a design perspective offered a wide selection of styles, patterns and colors  to allow each facility to have a distinct look and feel.

Ease of installation, selective replacement and maintenance also prompted them to use Interface carpet tile. And after working with their design firm and seeing much success with the new buildings, PSL decided to install Interface carpet in its renovation projects as well.

Less hospital, more hospitality

_98F7853With senior living facilities straddling the line between residential and healthcare, the flooring must exude a home-like, healing, hospitality aesthetic while also meeting functional needs. As an interior designer who has worked with Interface for 15 years, Adair E. Pagnotta, director of interior design at Noelker and Hull Associates, knew that Interface products would fit the bill. “We needed a timeless, hospitality design that would meet the owner’s overall goals and codes and represent Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County heritage,” she says. With a wide range of styles, patterns and colorways, Interface covered the floors of a number of new buildings across PSL’s campuses, including independent living, personal care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation, giving each its own distinct, yet cohesive, look.

Functional, flexible, and fresh

With faster installation and minimal downtime in occupied spaces, PSL’s renovation projects were much easier using Interface carpet tiles. According to Rodney L. Fenstermacher, Corporate Director of Construction and Environmental Services at Presbyterian Senior Living, since it didn’t disrupt the day’s activities, it was much more convenient for residents than other flooring alternatives. And when damage to the flooring occurred—as is expected in senior living spaces—Interface carpet tiles changed out with ease. Fenstermacher recalls when a medication permanently stained a floor; just the one tile was replaced without altering the look of the floor. He points to this flexibility as a critical advantage of using Interface modular carpet over broadloom.

Fenstermacher also appreciates that all Interface products include Intersept®, the proprietary antimicrobial preservative that protects the carpet against odor causing bacteria. “We have various events that involve liquid and keeping spills from settling to the lower surface is very important to us to prohibit mold and odor,” says Fenstermacher.

Lasting impressions

In addition to the aesthetic and performance advantages of Interface carpet tile, Interface also strives to offer a positive customer experience. Pagnotta attests to Interface’s exceptional customer service, saying that her Interface representative is “someone who cares about us as a firm and cares about our work with the customer. They take pride in what they do to ensure that not only as designers we are able to work with Interface, but there’s confidence garnered with the customer in the end,” she says.

But the real test was with the residents and staff. After conversations with residents, Pagnotta heard only positive feedback with the most resounding response being that it’s a “beautiful installation.” She says, “Some didn’t even realize it was carpet tile until someone told them.”

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