New Los Angeles Office is a Sustainable Showpiece
by Dave Macaulay
The building's HVAC system ensures comfort and energy efficiency.
It could have been an REI or Apple retail store, a high-end market, even a Mercedes-Benz showroom. Instead, it became a sustainability showcase – the new Los Angeles office for Gensler, one of the world’s top architecture, design, planning and consulting firms. Affectionately known as the “Jewel Box” by its owners, Thomas Properties Group, the three-story building wrapped in glass sits between two 52-story towers as part of the City National Plaza between South Figueroa and South Flower Streets. Key to Gensler’s move from Santa Monica to a more visible location downtown, the office now serves as a prototype workplace of the future: balancing comfort and energy efficiency through sustainable design. It is the perfect place to inspire innovation.
“Architects love volume, so we wanted to find a place that had volume – where we could express our creativity and to provide an office for creative people,” explains Gensler’s Rob Jernigan, AIA, LEED® AP and Managing Principal of Gensler's Los Angeles office. Here, they discovered unexpected opportunities for connectivity: “This building gave us the ability to create three-dimensional space...you walk inside and can look 45 feet up to the skylight. The atrium itself takes on a nice energy and buzz, not too loud and not too distracting – kind of an ‘internal urban space’.”
Integral to this project targeting LEED Platinum certification, Glumac provided mechanical/electrical and lighting design, energy modeling and full commissioning services. The result highlights daylighting, displacement ventilation, radiant cooling systems that feature chilled sails and chilled beam technology, as well as a cutting-edge Tambient (task-ambient) lighting system which performs 47 percent better than energy code.
A hybrid system using passive chilled sails coupled with an overhead variable air volume system provides air conditioning. Displacement ventilation floor diffusers on the mezzanine level supply clean fresh air with minimal energy use. A perimeter convective heating system at the base of the office’s 30-foot-tall glass windows offers an additional measure of comfort for occupants during winter. Rounding out this design, the operable skylights also aid in natural ventilation as well as passive smoke removal for the atrium.
“This is a great example of just how cool a TI project can be,” notes Richard Holzer, LEED AP and Managing Principal of Glumac’s Irvine office. “Being able to see the before and after – just the transformation of the space – is absolutely phenomenal.”
Exceptionally low connected load goals drove the innovative lighting design from the start. The lighting solution responds to daylight, as well as the clarity of Gensler's interior design. The generous side and top fenestrations infuse the spaces with lively connection to the outdoors, and allowed perimeter spaces to function without luminaires. The lighting solution is mostly provided by Tambient luminaires, custom designed to mount to the "benching" system by Vitra. Each worker's station is outfitted with just one 39w T5HO fluorescent lamp, which doubles to provide uplight for the entire room. The chilled sails above workstations also provide a good reflector for the uplight. "The space feels 'mysteriously' illuminated and free of clutter because the well shielded luminaires are mounted at eye-height," notes Carlos Inclán, Glumac Senior Lighting Designer and lighting lead on the project.
A Lutron Quantum control system dims electric lighting throughout the building whenever daylight contributes or suffices, and turns off luminaires in unoccupied areas. It also runs automated motorized shades to block solar glare according to time of the day. Innovations include wireless photocells, occupancy sensors and switches. It is expected that the Lutron system will deploy the connected luminaires at well below 50% of their connected load for great energy savings.
Realizing Gensler’s vision meant completely rethinking the interior. Originally constructed for ARCO in 1972, the building later housed a large Bank of America branch. Two high-end restaurants later took over the ground floor, while the rest of the space – a 26-ft-high second level and “dark space” on the third level previously used for bank storage – had remained empty for the last decade. So the design called for placing a 30-by-50-ft skylight in the roof and adding smaller skylights around the perimeter of the top floor. Gensler created a new second floor by suspending a mezzanine into the double-height space: effectively adding 12,000 sf (for a total of 45,000 sf) to meet the firm’s goal of 314 seats for staff. Each of the firm’s design studios now open out to the daylit central atrium, with a large tiered gathering space at the bottom.
Richard Hammond and Sabu Song shared lead design responsibilities on the project for Gensler. And they are pleased with the outcome. “We wanted to get away from the idea of the typical office space,” says Hammond, AIA, LEED AP and Gensler's Design Director. “So bringing us all together, having increased visibility and putting our work on display…that was key to this layering of ideas. The design created an office where people can do more innovative work through the way the space is designed – through the use of a wide range of materials and the mechanical systems all on display – while being inspired by their interactions with others.”
TOTAL AREA: 45,000 sf
MEP ENGINEER: Glumac
COMMISSIONING AGENT: Glumac
CONTRACTOR: Inner Space Construction
COMPLETION DATE: November 2011