August 26, 2015

Sculpture in Motion: Porsche Experience Center by HOK

Vroom, vroom! Most guys, even some gals, have a single-minded fantasy: to own a Porsche. If you can’t afford one, the next best thing might be to speed around a track in one—a fantasy that first became a reality at three locations in Europe and has now come to Atlanta, thanks to HOK.

The project, an “experience center” in Porsche parlance, is a true hybrid. That asphalt-concrete track is at the core of the concept, looping through and around HOK’s building for 1 ½ miles. Inside are a slew of driving-related amenities. A simulation lab is basically a video game for adults. Driver fitness is evaluated at a “human performance” area. A lounge offers customization for new cars. A restoration shop renders vintage models roadworthy. A training school teaches mechanics the trade. And, attracting locals who might not have any high-octane driving aspirations, Restaurant 356 is named for the first Porsche model to go into mass-production. Meanwhile, since the site is also the company’s North American head­quarters, there is work space for 400.

Here’s the project history. Though Porsche had been in the Atlanta area for 17 years, the employees were split between two facilities. Then there was the financial services group in the suburbs of Chicago. A headquarters to bring the Georgia and Illinois staff together was the brainchild of Porsche Cars North America president and CEO Detlev von Platen. “Returning home on an overseas flight, he saw empty land from the air,” HOK vice president and design principal Todd Bertsch says. The hilly 27-acre property turned out to have once hosted a Ford Motor Company plant.

An invitational competition soon followed—involving six firms, a three-page program, and a five-week deadline. After HOK won, under the leadership of Bertsch and vice president Betsy Nurse, director of interiors, ground was broken at the renamed 1 Porsche Drive, and a building in cast-in-place concrete and blue-tinted glass rose to house the entire Porsche population. “Traditionally, the mechanics don’t mingle with the C suite,” Bertsch continues. Ensuring that everyone would constantly cross paths was goal number one, achieved in the employee cafeteria and other shared spaces.

The second goal was brand enforcement. Not for a moment do you forget you’re in the Porsche universe. It’s announced by the exterior signage in pearlescent aluminum and carried through to the interiors philosophy. “We based our materials on what you might see when seated inside a car,” Nurse explains. Ergo the extensive black leather upholstery. A palette of simply black, white, and gray, with a pervasive gallery vibe, lets the colorful cars stand out like the artwork they are: 356, 911, Le Mans, Cayman, and Cayenne models on rotating display.

Also, Nurse notes, “Dark gray accent walls help counter all the volume.” And there’s plenty of it, six stories with 240,000 square feet wrapping three sides of a courtyard. Below-grade, an additional 225,000 square feet accommodates not only employee parking but also the restoration shop and the “heritage center,” practically a museum displaying cars from global headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The latter two spaces open onto a section of the driving track, before it swings up and loops around the courtyard.

Hugging the courtyard, at grade, is the training school for mechanics. On the three levels above, office staff works mostly at sit-stand stations. “There’s no real grid,” Nurse says. “It forces people to bump into each other and interact.” On two of the upper levels are the cafeteria and Restaurant 356.

The lobby, including the reception area, occupies most of the double-height level directly below the restaurant. Throughout this introductory expanse, the car, in various iterations, rules. Toy-car enthusiasts will immediately be drawn to the Porsche miniatures arrayed on a labyrinthine track supported in midair by a column in front of the reception desk.

One end of the lobby is event-ready, outfitted with a bar. Suspended nearby is what appears at first to be a scattering of black acrylic abstract shapes. Stand directly under­neath them, however, and you’ll see that they resolve into the outline of a Porsche 918. At the other end of the lobby, a café serves driver-customers needing to fuel up before they hit the real track. Look up here, and you’ll see an oversize replica of a five-speed manual-shift knob, a reminder of Porsche’s past. (All cars sold in the U.S. now have either automatic or paddle-shift transmissions.)

With 30,000 guests expected to visit the Atlanta “experience center” annually, a Los Angeles version is next. West Coasters, start your engines.

Project Resources>>

Project Team
William Edmisten; Duncan Kirk; Michael Katzin; Michael Graham; Scott Rose; Ralph Raymond; Diana Stanisic; Mary Sabel: HOK. Gabler-Youngston: Lighting Consultant. KSI/Strutural Engineers: Structural Engineer. Kimley-Horn and Associates: Civil Engineer. Barrett, Woodyard & Associates: MEP. Czarnowski: Millwork. Owens Welding: Metalwork. Precision Concrete Pumping: Concrete Contractor. Whiting-Turner Contracting Company: General Contractor. Jacoby Group: Construction Manager. Mace: Project Manager.

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