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A Dynamic and Open Workspace

San Francisco’s Richard Pollack & Associates creates a dynamic, open workspace for an expanding Bay Area business.

“THIS PROJECT INVOLVED several leaps of faith,” says designer Gary Nichols, a senior associate at Richard Pollack & Associates (RPA) who managed the renovation of headquarters for the Hamel Group, “employment marketing strategists” serving the biotech industry. For starters, recalls Nichols, the company committed to not only a largely unexplored area of Oakland’s old shipyards but also an unconventional industrial space in 1998–“before every dot.com had its office in a former warehouse.” As one of the Bay Area’s fastest growing companies, the Hamel Group required an office that could accommodate its expanding workforce and serve as a serious recruitment tool. In addition, the company sought a bold, progressive design that would appeal to its biotech clientele as well as Hamel’s young staff. RPA worked closely with CEO Pamela Hamel and CFO Mike Pauletich to devise an environment that fosters creativity and efficiency, while also providing comfort and influencing employee retention.

 

Open workspace design
Open workspace design

Among the project’s greatest challenges was the conversion of adjacent spaces in two separate, but conjoined buildings into one unified, open office. “The main programmatic objective was to create a whole,” says Nichols. The spaces were gutted and all walls were removed, except for the shear wall between the two buildings. Stripped down to its bricks, the wall was opened in two places to unify the spaces. “A small doorway had been cut into the wall to allow passage from one side to the other,” explains Nichols. “But we created large, ceiling-height openings to open the spaces to one another.” The plan is organized around a central public core with offices and work stations located around the perimeter. A curved boat-shaped form, which intersects the shear wall and arcs up to the ceiling, anchors the newly (used, 7,000-sq.-ft. office.

 

Reception area of the open workspace
Reception area of the open workspace

Decorting Comunal Areas

Guiding circulation and enveloping communal areas (reception, conference room, resource library, storage, and kitchen), the office’s dramatic focal form was conceived by Nichols to unify the space. Made of two textured drywall layers and illuminated from within, “the sweeping, organic form distracts one’s attention from the disjointed space,” says the designer. “One side of the space has a truss system, the other has a flat stud roof. The boat is an element that unifies and holds together the two volumes.” A dropped ceiling above the central core houses mechanical and infrastructure systems, giving this area of the office a sense of enclosure and buffering sound. Elsewhere, visible ductwork, along with concrete floors and exposed structural members, establishes an industrial aesthetic. In conference room, a set of recliner chairs and meeting table were set up. Beside the conference room, a kitchen is available to serve.

Recliner chairs are prefered in conference room and meeting areas
Recliner chairs are prefered in conference room and meeting areas

A communal aspect was essential to Hamel’s program, underscoring the organization’s encouragement of collaboration and creativity among its employees. “There are no truly enclosed spaces,” says Nichols. Even executive offices, he points out, are defined by walls that do not reach the full height of the ceiling. In addition, interior “windows,” framed like pictures, allow visual access behind closed doors–and out to a tree-lined street. Work stations have partitions for privacy, but are open-ended so employees are not cut off from one another. This openness not only facilitates communication but also lowered HVAC costs significantly, says Nichols.

In personal working space, the design is very simple with a desk and a recliner. With the reclining chair, officers can take a rest easily when tired
In personal working space, the design is very simple with a desk and a recliner. With the reclining chair, officers can take a rest easily when tired

In contrast to the multi-layered architectural shell, furniture is simple and functional. An austere concrete- topped table surrounded by tubular steel armchairs occupies the conference room. Systems furniture, specified in a neutral metallic shade, resonates with the metal ducts that snake around the ceiling. The seven private offices are carpeted and furnished with softer pieces to create a more relaxed ambience. In one instance, existing painted signage was preserved on the brick shear wall, adding a bold, graphic element to the decorative scheme.

Design and construction of the project were completed in approximately 14 weeks for an estimated cost of $45 per sq. ft. Project manager/designer Gary Nichols extends credit to RPA designer Eileen Chen.

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