The Living Room, a space designed to encourage collaboration and innovation. Note the large windows and spectacular views.
San Francisco has a well-earned reputation for being hip, high energy and environmentally responsible. The same could be said for Thornton Tomasetti’s new space at 650 California St. there, with its open floor plan, modern décor and high-tech touches. And when it comes to being green, the new location, which brings together three Bay Area operations into a single space, raises the bar. If all goes according to plan, it will be our first LEED Platinum office under the U.S. Green Building Council’s new LEED v4 standards.
“Part of our goal was to create an environment that encourages collaboration and demonstrates the firm’s commitment to sustainability,” Senior Principal and San Francisco Office Leader John Abruzzo said. “At 650 Cal, we have a high performing, healthy workspace that gets people up from their desks and interacting.”
Office Manager Cristina Medina, one of the heroes of the move, unpacks at 650 California St.
Just before Thanksgiving, staff from our offices in Oakland and Main and Brannan streets in San Francisco took occupancy of a full 15,000-sf floor at 650 Cal, a 34-story tower in the Financial District. The space is fit out with 66 workstations, three conference rooms, two focus rooms, a wellness room, a café, a “living room” and ample places for project teams to spread out. Like our London office, San Francisco does not have private offices, but it does have plenty of private spaces. It also has wireless capability throughout and a phone system with a hot-desking function, so staff can pick up their laptops, key in their phone code and work anywhere.
“Everyone is really excited about the space,” Abruzzo said. “So much so that many people volunteered to come in over the weekend to help with the move.” Abruzzo also credits the IT and Office Services teams, including Steve Ross, Jonathan Block, Aaron Fernandez, Chris Bartoszek, Michael Zhao, Ryan Ng and Dorian Soler, for working hard to ensure a smooth transition.
Planning for the move started two years earlier, as the leases for the Oakland and Main Street offices were approaching the end of their terms. Both locations were inherited through Thornton Tomasetti’s 2009 acquisition of DASSE, and it was decided that since the two offices had always worked together as a single unit, combining them made the most sense. About halfway through the planning process Thornton Tomasetti acquired sustainability consulting firm Simon & Associates and its six-person team, which had been on Brannan Street, would also be housed in the new space.
“One of the things that we looked at was achieving critical mass,” Abruzzo said. “Like a lot of other offices, we have staff in New Zealand, on site or in meetings with clients, so on any given day, a 25-person office could be down to just 10 or 12 people. We thought we could get a lot more energy and a lot more juice if we pulled everyone together,” Abruzzo said. “And San Francisco is where we needed to be since that’s where our clients are. We have many associates and senior associates and it is important for their career development to be able network and meet with an architect or attorney for lunch.”
With CB Richard Ellis as our real estate broker, the relocation committee–Abruzzo, senior vice presidents Lynn Simon and Peter Lassetter and Vice President Carl Wilford–set out to find the perfect space. It would have to be budget friendly, in a good location and green. The firm’s sustainable office operations policy requires all new Thornton Tomasetti offices to be LEED certified, but the San Francisco location would take it to the next level: we wanted to participate in the beta test for LEED v4, the latest and most stringent version of the ratings system, and pursue the highest level, which is platinum.
The workstation area with formally assigned spaces and informal shared worktables. (Although the accent color appears to be red, it is indeed terracotta.) White is the predominant color of walls, workstations and exposed ceilings in order to maximize reflectance and the effectiveness of daylighting.
To gain the necessary credits for LEED-CI Platinum, it was important to find a LEED certified building to give us a good foundation from which to work. “It was a challenging process to find a location that met all of our criteria and worked within our budget,” Simon said. “We were also interested in finding a space where we could develop a further relationship with the building’s owner or developer.” The search was narrowed down to two spaces, and in the end, it was the owners of 650 Cal, longtime client Tishman Speyer, who made it clear that they were committed to being green and to working with us. One of our recent assignments for Tishman Speyer was to conduct a seismic risk study on 650 Cal prior to our interest in the building. The results showed that the building would perform solidly in the event of an earthquake.
In addition to being LEED Gold certified, 650 Cal has ample daylighting, with views of Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf. Studies have shown that access to daylight has a positive impact on occupant health and productivity, and LEED v4 has a new credit category associated with daylight that calls the reflective value of everything in the space. “The previous version of LEED had a credit for lighting controls,” Simon said. “Now it is also about lighting quality.”
The circular sensor at the upper right monitors daylight and turns on the lights when levels fall low enough. To the right is the haunch of one of the building’s steel moment frames.
The greatest challenge thus far has been meeting the requirements for materials transparency, or the impact that a product has on the environment or one’s health. This category is the most significant change to the LEED system since it relies on data provided by manufacturers and material suppliers, which has never been done before. “Every member of the project team worked with us very closely to research and identify green materials that had Health Product Declarations (HPD) and Environmental Project Declarations (EPD),” Simon said. “We are calling manufacturers and asking them how they are handling the material transparency requirements. While this isn’t easy, it is helping to transform the market.”
The San Francisco team.
Since becoming certified under LEED v4 is more difficult, it requires an integrated approach in which everyone involved is brought into the process at the onset. In the case of our San Francisco office, it started with an extensive employee survey about what they wanted to see in the new space. Staff also participated in choosing the furniture and took part in a full-day training session led by FMI on how to achieve a high-performing workspace. “The session focused on the Thornton Tomasetti culture, our core values and promoting innovation through increased collaboration,” Abruzzo said.
There were design charettes involving our Sustainability team and space planners and interior designers from Gensler. We also worked in close collaboration with Tishman Speyer and contractor BCCI, which handled the build out. “In order to achieve high performing buildings, you can’t use the linear process of design/construction delivery,” Simon said. “You need to have team members fully engaged upfront and throughout the process. Most people think that’s what they are already doing, but it is really far from it.”
As participants in the LEED v4 beta, Thornton Tomasetti is not only getting better performing space, but we are also gaining greater technical expertise and recognition as a leader in building sustainability. Our space is one of 25 LEED-CI projects worldwide that is participating in the beta program. “Every person on my team has worked on this project and as a result is more familiar with some aspect of LEED v4 than our competitors,” Simon said. “In addition to being a learning experience for us and the rest of the project team, we are also sharing our experiences with the USGBC about some of the issues we encountered putting LEED v4 into practice. And that has given us a tremendous amount of exposure.”
As staff continues to settle in, there is still much to do in the new space. A kinetic sculpture will be installed in January (read more on the completed project here). Phase two plans include high-tech touch screens in which you can get information on the BART train schedule or whether a staffer is at his or her desk and energy metering that will track the temperature, sunlight and CO2 levels in the space. “We want it to seem more like a laboratory,” Abruzzo said.
In addition to unveiling the new office at an open house in February, office leaders expect to regularly entertain clients and host events, such as AIA meetings and LEED seminars. “We are really pleased at how well space turned out and want to show it off,” Abruzzo said. “It was a lot of work, but definitely worth it.”
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