July 22, 2013

Do the Math: Blitz Makes One Workplace Two

The largest furniture dealer in Northern California, One Workplace is furthermore the sole Steelcase and Coalesse distributor in the Bay Area. So planning a new headquarters involved a highly complex program: a showroom for 250-odd product lines, plus an office for the growing staff. A hybrid situation was likewise presented by the Santa Clara site. Though its two buildings were both of mid-century vintage, that was the only similarity. The smaller structure, in front, was a rather mundane office building; behind it was a large warehouse long used to store paper.

Credit for connecting the two, a project totaling 35,000 square feet, goes to Design Blitz, an architecture firm founded by Seth Hanley and Melissa Wallin, partners both personal and professional. Straight off, Hanley and Wallin knew they were in for some serious “exploratory demolition,” Hanley notes. That would be followed by renovation, particularly to give a big street-front presence to?the smaller structure, designated to become the entry. To accomplish the transformation, they extruded a glass box from the main volume, which they wrapped in steel screens perforated in a pattern paying homage to the ailing oak trees that had to be uprooted during the construction process.

Inside, removing years of “improvements” revealed assets including a 28-foot ceiling, concrete-block walls, and concrete flooring. “We found fascinating artifacts, too. What I call ‘free architecture’—fire doors, a chimney stack, and old space heaters that we painted and rehung, even though they don’t work,” Wallin says.

Surprisingly, space planning began with the café—or maybe not surprisingly, since One Workplace is the third-generation business of an Italian-American family. In addition, the café is the connector between the two buildings. “It’s part of the circulation sequence and tells a hospitality story,” Hanley explains. “It says, ‘Welcome to our space.’” Wallin adds: “It’s not just for lunchtime socializing. It’s for work. Quite literally, the showroom and office meet in the middle.”

For the showroom, the couple strategized an interactive paradigm, stressing partnership rather than a merely transactional experience. The showroom is also the entry point for two distinct circulation paths mapped out by Blitz. Primarily for furniture-buying customers, the shorter route makes a simple loop through the various vignettes. The longer route takes office workers out of the showroom, through the café, and into the former warehouse—now densely populated with workstation systems, meeting rooms, and a materials library—before circling back to the front patio, where a just-planted vineyard reinforces family ownership.

The longer route circumnavigates Blitz’s main design intervention, a two-level, open-sided structure standing in the center of the office landscape. Preliminary diagrams resembled a boomerang. Then, Wallin says, “The boomerang took on a life of its own.” It morphed into a swooping S shape, shifted on its axis—a prefabricated steel form lined in vinyl planks that mimic bamboo and partially glassed in. “Since the mezzanine component is self-supporting, we only had to bolt it into the slab. The whole thing went up in five days,” Hanley recalls. Besides being a way-finding aid and an anchor for the adjacent materials library, the huge swoosh comprises several function zones. Sheltered below are a lounge and a meeting area. Up top are the boardroom, another lounge, and an observation deck.

From there, visitors can see that the One Workplace team truly walks the walk: The bird’s-eye view reveals the various desking systems’ flexibility and interconnectivity. Some sales reps are completely mobile, with no dedicated station. They stow their stuff in a central location and choose their work spot at will. When the mood strikes, personnel can pick up a laptop and opt for any of the scattered soft-seating spots, not to mention the café. This being California, outdoors is always an option as well—Blitz provided alfresco alternatives flanking the kitchen.

There’s no doubting the efficacy of the interior scheme. One Workplace has decreased its square footage by 10,000, while population has increased by 28. Not an iota of space was left untouched in the quest for efficiency. A boiler room, for example, has become a spiffy design lab with new windows, patio access, and that unearthed chimney stack, now painted lemon yellow.

And the exterior? Sitting right opposite San Jose’s airport, the One Workplace facade is one giant branding opportunity. The company name, emblazoned in 25-foot-high black letters on a gray background, is unmissable from the runways.

Project Team
Chris Baumbach; Amanda Eckes: Design Blitz. Kobza & Associates: Architect of Record. Summit Engineering: Lighting Consultant. Royston Hanamoto Alley & Abbey; Techcon Landscape Construction: Landscaping Consultants. FCP: Metalwork. Woodtech: Woodwork. OPI Commercial Builders: General Contractor.

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