Source:  Contract  magazine, September 2012

Source: Contract magazine, September 2012

As the main artery of Atlanta, Peachtree Street may lay claim to the city’s most notable architecture, but it was an unassuming 1980s-era mixed-use structure on the stretch that caught the attention of Perkins+Will Atlanta for the firm’s new offices. Situated across the street from the High Museum of Art and Woodruff Arts Center, the site was central to Atlanta’s culture scene. Secondly, having been in the same part of town for 30 years, Perkins+Will was familiar with the location and found it easily accessible for driving, cycling, and mass transit–commuting employees, with the rapid rail station just a block away. But the most important factor in purchasing 1315 Peachtree Street was that the building held enormous potential to embody the firm’s values—particularly sustainable design.

“There were a lot of things that were representative of what we believe in and talk about to our clients: sustainability, smart growth, a new kind of workplace, and real mixed-use that brings together commercial, cultural, and civic,” says Manuel Cadrecha, principal and design director at Perkins+Will Atlanta.

Great adaptations
While the concrete building boasted modernity that was rare for an area rife with brick and ornament, its design did have flaws. A stepped west facade with glass roofing created a solarium effect. To keep the natural light without the heat gain, the team removed the glass back to the original concrete frame of the building, and inserted a flat curtain wall that rises from the ground to fourth floor. Exterior horizontal fins shield the glazing and appear to float, but in actuality, the fins are attached to vertical fritted-glass standoffs that cast long shadows to further reduce heat. Previously a parking lot, the now-enclosed ground floor became the new home of the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA). A public library branch, which was an existing tenant, remains on the second floor, and Perkins+Will occupies the top four floors.

On the fifth floor, where the concrete frame steps back, the designers extended the floor forward to create an outdoor terrace for staff enjoyment, including weekly happy hours. Exterior mechanized shades and a trellis provide sun relief here, and control the amount of light penetrating the interior. FSC-certified Massaranduba wood tiles clad the terrace and percolate rainwater to irrigate the site’s medicinal plants, such as echinacea and lavender, which employees and guests are encouraged to pick for use. Other rainwater gets diverted to a cistern, treated, and reused for flushing bathroom fixtures.

The designers also implemented a variety of energy-efficient systems. Photosensors in every bay—each with an IP address—are programmable for daylight harvesting. A rooftop adsorption chiller and two small pumps on each floor require less energy and real estate than traditional HVAC machinery to produce radiant heating and cooling. And microturbines on the roof provide 40 percent of the office’s energy.

An emphasis on teamwork
For all four office floors, Perkins+Will devised an open plan combining benching, meeting, and collaboration zones. Only a handful of private offices exist, as most employees prefer to work collaboratively. “There’s no more ‘I’m in the interiors, architecture, or brand group.’ Now it’s ‘I’m on this project team,’” says Cadrecha. As such, workstations are not permanently assigned. Mobile personal storage pedestals allow staff to easily change workstations. Demountable glass walls form sunlit project team rooms and afford flexibility as they can be moved and reconfigured in the future. Erasable markers are distributed throughout the office for writing and sketching directly onto all the glazed surfaces. Other meeting opportunities await in each floor’s touchdown space off the elevators, conference and breakout areas, lounge spaces, an outdoor terrace, and the formal amenities such as the learning center where the firm hosts guest speakers and continuing education sessions.

The Atlanta staff, which previously worked out of a labyrinthine former residence, is pleased with the resulting loft-like office where camaraderie now thrives, emblematic of the collaborative effort that Perkins+Will made by including on this project team members from various offices. Having attained a LEED score of 95—one of the highest in the world—the 1315 Peachtree Street project made AIA’s 2012 Top Ten Green Projects list. Non-design businesses have taken note, too, with many touring the site to learn more about good green design. And visitors to the Richard Meier– and Renzo Piano–designed museum across the street are beginning to view the project as a design attraction. “We now see people standing on the High Museum side taking pictures of our building,” marvels Cadrecha.