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Shining Example

A slick looking and highly functional space for one San Francisco company does more than provide an exceptional environment for its employees. It also reflects the company’s work to the outside world.

The architectural and design firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK) completed the renovation of its two-story office at One Bush Street in late 2002 with the intention of setting an example of a workspace that is smart and practical, holds real value and practices good environmental stewardship. Central to the office’s theme is movement, especially on the upper floor where the designers work.

The entirely open room, on the third floor of the building and encompassing 17,000 square feet, is not particularly large. Lead designer on the project, Sun Lee, says this presented the challenge of making it look expansive, using the space most efficiently and creating effective traffic patterns.

“If you take a look at the density of the space, what we have achieved is making it appear very open, with emphasis on teaming space, defining clear circulation and being able to personalize the space,” Lee says.

Open cubicles line the perimeter of the office, which is floor-to-ceiling windows. No cubicle is more than 25 feet from the window, providing maximum natural sunlight in personal workspaces. Inside of the cubicles is a traffic pattern created around a row of six teaming and storage spaces, which the office staff calls its toolboxes.

Differentiating the two types of work areas, as well as the traffic pattern, was key to the design. HOK achieved this in part by using metal ceiling panels from USG Interiors, Inc. to provide a dynamic, monolithic look. The panels were installed through the “spine” of the room, above the walkway and toolboxes. The company calls this area its “170-foot-long Main Street.”

Lee says the metal portion of the ceiling, with its reflective perforated aluminum surface, created the energy needed for the high-motion spaces.

“Some people see metal as very cold, but if you know how to use it, it can have movement to it,” she says.

The company selected panels in a 2- by 6-foot size to go above the toolboxes, plus one row of 2- by-4-foot panels around the perimeter of the metal portion to reflect the traffic pattern on the floor.

Mike Ireland, president of Ireland Interior Systems, the ceiling contractor on the job, says the 2- by 4-foot panels not only added to the aesthetics of the ceiling, “they reflected the traffic pattern on the floor.”

Indirect, diffused up-lighting toward the metal combined with surface-mounted lighting kept “hot light” to a minimum while creating texture in the ceiling, Lee says. Because it was installed with an enclosed plenum in a minimum depth of 18 inches, the panels also produce an excellent .65 noise reduction coefficient.

To create the effect of a floating ceiling, explains Ireland, the metal portion is 4 inches higher than the rest of the ceiling, and USG Interiors’ suspension trim was used around the edge of the metal ceiling. It rests against the 12- by 12-inch concealed-spline ceiling panels, which furnish the perimeter of the space.

Although the dramatically simple 12-by-12 panels were aesthetically suitable for the “low-energy” space, it was not only the look of the ceiling that dictated the use of the 12- by 12-inch panels. Building standards required the use of a 12- by 12-inch concealed-spline ceiling at least 16 feet into the ceiling from perimeter windows.

“It’s all glass curtainwall on the exterior,” explains Robert Volpentest, project manager for DOME Construction, the general contractor on the project, of the landmark One Bush Street Building, “so a person standing on the sidewalk can look up all 18 floors of the building and see a uniform ceiling pattern.”

Metal accents in the “quieter” places in the office complement the metal ceiling panels. Herman Miller’s Ethoscape furniture with metal tones was used in the doorways of the workstations, which surround the high-energy teaming areas. The metal also connects office space to the metal window frames on the exterior of the building.

Further use of the colors red, gray and white created the theme, while highlighting the atmosphere of the different spaces. Red was used on the wall connecting all of the toolboxes, as well as other busy areas.
“The red wall connects two zones and the connective area between downstairs and upstairs, and defines common space,” says Lee, including a stairway coffee room and copy room. She says HOK minimized the tonality for a modern, yet timeless, look.

Also decidedly modern was the company’s dedication to sustainable construction and business practices. The ceiling panels join a host of other renewable, recycled-content and, in many cases, locally manufactured building products, including bamboo, linoleum and special carpeting attached without adhesive. Waste materials were recycled during construction.

The office exceeds the energy efficiency requirements of Title 24, a state mandate for new construction and renovations, even though the building is a San Francisco historical landmark and exempt from the directive. While it was in progress in late 2002, it was selected as one of 39 projects recognized nationwide in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Commercial Interiors pilot program.

“The whole emphasis is that we used recycled-content material throughout the project when practical,” Lee says.

HOK didn’t stop leading by example at the construction phase. Design was planned for convenient everyday recycling, and the company leases no on-site parking spaces for employees, instead encouraging them to make use of public transportation.

All these extraordinary elements made the office effective enough to draw the attention of clients, who have reacted positively to the office design. But Lee says it’s the specialty metal ceiling that helps make the tight area work efficiently.

“I don’t see it as how expansive it is; I see it as how you prioritize and energize the space,” summarizes Lee. “Metal brings a lot of empowerment to the space.”

About the Author

Sarah Humphreys is a free-lance writer based in Huntington Beach, Calif.

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