SANF - April 2017

Silicon Valley’s Bland Architecture, Rebooted

Lamar Anderson 2017-03-20 05:03:51

SAVVY ARCHITECTS AND DEVELOPERS ARE TRANSFORMING SILICON VALLEY’S SEA OF BLAND CONCRETE LOW-RISE BUILDINGS INTO THE OFFICES OF TOMORROW. Silicon Valley, known for having no particular architectural identity, does have a vernacular of sorts: the concrete tilt-up. One of the easiest buildings to erect as tech hardware companies grew in the pre- Internet era, the tilt-up takes its name from its speedy mode of construction: Concrete building frames are poured onsite and “tilted up” by crane. “Most of them were built in the ’80s and early ’90s, and that property is prime right now for a facelift,” says Kevin Bates, president and owner of Sharp Development Company. Even today, as giants like Apple and Google commission architectural showpieces from the Norman Fosters and Bjarke Ingelses of the world, those trophies will take their place in a landscape still dominated by tilt-ups—low-slung, timeworn, unsexy. But now a handful of architects and speculative developers are seeing the lowly tilt-up with fresh eyes. From Mountain View to Sunnyvale to San Jose, they’ve undertaken inspired renovations that are turning tiltups into trophies in their own right. Think light-filled, energy-efficient oases tricked out with patios and green walls: places where today’s techies actually want to come to work. So how does a forgettable suburban box transform into an architectural breath of fresh air? Drawing on five standout renovations by local developers and architects, we break the process down into five surefire, if not exactly simple, steps. HOW TO OVER HAUL A TILT UP IN FIVE STEPS Opposite page, left: THE ADDITION OF 86 WINDOWS HELPED TRANS FORM A ONCE DARK RACQUETBALL COURT IN SUNNY VALE INTO A LIGHT FILLED OFFICE FOR THE PAYMENTS COMPANY CLOVER. Right: IN SAN JOSE, NOLL & TAM ADDED FOUR ROOF MONITORS TO BRING LIGHT INTO SEMICONDUC TOR COMPANY XILINX’S OFFICE. Above: GENSLER IS REVAMPING A TILT UP CAMPUS IN SAN JOSE WITH SHED ROOFS AND CLERE STORY WINDOWS. 1 EXCAVATE In their natural state, tiltups are badly insulated boxes made slightly more habitable with drop ceilings and office partitions. The low window counts and mazes of interior spaces pretty much guarantee a dark interior. When architects Noll & Tam got into the two-story tilt-up they renovated for semiconductor company Xilinx in San Jose last year, “the inside was just awful,” recalls principal Chris Noll. “It went on for hundreds of feet, this sea of high cubicles and very low lighting. It felt like this awful cave system you couldn’t find your way around.” Noll & Tam stripped out all the partitions and drop ceilings to start from zero. Seth Orgain, an architect at Gensler’s Oakland office, is a fan of the raw tilt-up. “Once you peel off the superfluous pieces, you have a simple, honest warehouse-type building,” he says. 2 PERFORATE Built as a racquetball court in the early ’70s, 415 North Mathilda Avenue in Sunnyvale had almost no glass in it when Sharp Development’s Kevin Bates began an overhaul with the help of Integral Group engineers and Hillhouse Construction. The trio—who are basically the Property Brothers of tilt-ups—punched 86 windows in the structure. “It’s a ridiculously large number of windows,” says architect Tim Barnes, of Studio G Architects. To add that much glass without compromising the building’s structural integrity, the team ran a new shear wall through the interior and covered it with a green wall, among other measures. Skylights bring light down into a central atrium. Before the building was even completed in 2015, the payments company Clover snapped up the lease. 3 INSULATE Concrete walls are really inefficient if they’re not insulated. But add a layer of insulation to the exterior and suddenly the thermal mass of the concrete is working with you, not against you—trapping cool air on a hot day and warm air on a cold day. That’s the strategy architects AP+I Design used when they renovated their own office in Mountain View in 2015, with the help of Bates and his team of consultants. They insulated the facade with a layer of foam composite. “From the exterior, you don’t even know it’s concrete,” says principal Carol Sandman. And the facelift paid off, even before the windows went in. “When we were doing construction and there were just window openings and no airconditioning, it was one of those 100-degree days,” Sandman recalls. “After I went about 10 feet in, the building was very cool.” 4 AUTOMATE Part of Bates’s formula for tilt-up overhauls is achieving net zero energy—that is, making the project capable of producing enough solar energy to offset the cost of what it consumes. To pull it off, reducing overall energy use is key. That’s where building management software comes in. At 380 North Pastoria Avenue in Sunnyvale, a speculative office renovation completed last fall with WRNS Studio, the software controls the windows, lights, and air-conditioning to favor daylight and natural ventilation as much as possible. The level of automation takes tenants some getting used to. “When our algorithm tells them to, the windows open, the skylights open, the fans go on,” Bates explains. “All these things are going on, and nobody in the building’s doing anything.” 5 ITERATE Most revamped tilt-ups still look like tilt-ups—just with nicer facades. But Gensler is pushing the tilt-up into new territory in a speculative office renovation about to start construction in North San Jose. Dubbed Assembly at North First, the project will transform the old LAM Research campus into an idyllic cluster of shedlike structures that recall Santa Clara Valley’s agrarian roots. The design preserves the original concrete buildings but extends them with a thin band of new wood-andsteel construction that introduces sawtooth roofs and clerestory windows. “When you combine some of the vernacular building forms with the industrial DNA of these buildings,” Orgain says, “you get a really interesting mix of bigvolume spaces with light that comes in in ways that we just don’t get enough of in office spaces.” The Future Is BRIGHT AN AMBITIOUS NEW STREET-ART PROJECT AIMS TO CHANGE OUR PERSPECTIVE ON SAN FRANCISCO’S MAIN DRAG. by Gary Kamiya THE iconoclasts who turned the Bay Bridge into the world’s biggest light sculpture want to do the same thing for San Francisco’s main drag. “Our goal is to transform Market Street,” says Ben Davis, founder of Illuminate, the arts nonprofit that conceived of and raised $14 million in private financing for the acclaimed, now permanent Bay Lights. “We want to make it a worldclass street.” To achieve that ambitious goal, Davis is trying to pull off another audaciously oversize urban art project: two two-mile-long light tubes, suspended high above the ground and running on each side of the street from One Market to Van Ness Avenue, that will light up every time a BART or Muni Metro train passes underground. The name of the proposed art installation, appropriately enough, is LightRail. Davis says he first started thinking about how to transform Market Street in 1995, when he was renting an office in the Ferry Building for $300 a month. “I was flummoxed by the bad energy there,” he says. “I felt like something was needed to activate the street.” In January 2013, two months before the Bay Lights turned on, artist George Zisiadis approached him at one of the last fundraisers for the project. Zisiadis and fellow artist Stefano Corazza pitched Davis the idea of running interactive light tubes down Market. Davis loved it and began trying to make “this impossible project” happen. The first thing Davis had to do was deal with the multiple agencies whose bureaucratic tentacles are wrapped around Market Street. “In some ways, LightRail is even harder than the Bay Bridge lights, because so many different agencies have jurisdiction,” Davis says. He managed to get them all on board, and the final official hurdle was cleared when the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved LightRail in December 2014. That left the little matter of meeting the project’s $10 million budget, a process that started in earnest a year ago. So far, Davis has raised just $600,000, with $250,000 of that coming from one of the Bay Lights’ big donors and $200,000 coming from Battery Powered, the philanthropic arm of the Battery club. Davis admits that trying to get people to donate money to transform Market Street is tougher than getting them to beautify the Bay Bridge. “Market Street has been down in the dumps for so long, it’s a tough sell. It’s not like saying, ‘Look how beautiful the Bay Bridge could be if we put lights on it.’ This is a deeper civic transformation. It’s actually getting people to believe in the city itself.” Davis envisions LightRail as an inclusive thread that ties the motley thoroughfare together, making it a place where everyone, from the panhandlers at Sixth Street to the financial types downtown, feels they belong. Davis also plans to replace the old orange sodium streetlights—which he calls “crime lights” because of the sinister pallor they cast—with white LED bulbs. The overall goal, he says, is to change Market Street from “a place of hurried passage to a lingering destination, a place of awe and wonder.” Market could definitely use some more wonder. The big arterial has an anarchic energy, but it’s far from the Champs-Élysées. The city’s $400 million Better Market Street project, slated to make major changes to the street’s transportation configuration, should help. LightRail, if realized, could be the icing on the street’s new cake. You can get a sense of what LightRail will look like in a cavernous space that once housed Hollywood Billiards, on the second floor of a soon-to-be-demolished building on Market near Seventh. A film of Market Street is projected on facing walls, with two working light tubes hanging in front of the projections—a trompe l’oeil effect not unlike that of a diorama. Watching the lights flash down the tubes from blocks away, knowing that they are tracking the movements of underground trains, is a delightfully hybrid urban art experience: part Exploratorium exhibit, part transportation planner’s neon dream, part Burning Man light show. If it gets fully funded, Davis says, LightRail could become a reality in as soon as six to eight months. He’s optimistic that he can make it happen. “With the Bay Lights, a lot of money came in at the last minute. It’s like a pot of water—it gets hotter and hotter and then boils all at once.” But the water needs to heat up fast. “I’m very proud of the exquisite generosity and community support that has gotten us this far,” he says. “But if we can’t get to a go place by June, then we’re just going to have to pull the plug.” If Davis can pull it off—and the smart money is on him succeeding—a different electricity will soon be shooting through the heart of San Francisco. The Future Is SMART WHEN A DESIGN FIRM TEAMS UP WITH THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, PRINCIPALS BECOME PUPILS AGAIN. By Erin Feher While battles are being ferociously waged over big-picture education policy (school vouchers, standardized testing, firearms for grizzly attacks), it’s easy for the small things to get overlooked. Small like those four-footers known as the students. So when the Palo Alto–based design powerhouse Ideo put its collective brainpower toward improving education, it very deliberately aimed for small and fast fixes. School Retool is a joint program dreamed up by Ideo and its frequent collaborator, Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (known as the d.school). Last year, they launched it inside schools nationwide with a fish-out-of-water experience called the Shadow a Student Challenge. For an entire day, administrators who typically spend their nine-to-fives in meeting rooms or dealing with a rotating cast of public school “stakeholders” spent every minute with a single child, from the bus stop in the morning to after-school football practice. They were advised to unplug (as in: leave the walkie-talkie and the smartphone behind) to be completely present for the experience, and afterward they completed a fairly simple Ideodesigned worksheet to help them identify a challenge they observed—and then hack a quick solution, to be implemented immediately. It was design thinking at its most elemental, and it offered a fresh approach for many policy-wonk administrators who are often forced to measure results in years, not days. Amie Lamontagne, principal at Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy (KDA) in Oakland, spent her day with a fifth grader, meeting him at 8:10 a.m. a block from school so she could walk with him, his mother, and his brother. “The first thing I noticed is that we walked all the way to our classroom without anyone greeting us,” Lamontagne says. “It made me feel sad. It’s not a great way to start the day.” This inspired her first hack: standing outside the front door a few days a week to greet families and students as they arrive. “I want them to know I’m glad they’re at school.” The student Lamontagne spent the day with was an English-language learner, as are a majority of the students at KDA—there are currently 13 home languages spoken at the school, although English is the one heard most frequently throughout the day. “So I decided to hack the traditional advisory structure and create a language club for one of our newer home languages, Mandarin,” Lamontagne says. She and a Mandarin-speaking teacher started gathering a small group of students, some who spoke Mandarin and some who did not, for a 30-minute language club once a week. “The kids started out by sharing why they are interested in learning another language and asking questions of the students who speak Mandarin,” Lamontagne says. “A lot of curiosity around culture came up, as well as a desire to learn phrases and actually speak the language.” According to Susie Wise, the director of the K-12 lab at the d.school, administrators often get bogged down in the rollout of the next big thing. But when they are encouraged to observe from a kid’s perspective, it puts them in learning mode. It’s during this leadersas- learners moment that new ideas germinate. “The program has really shifted my thinking around what it means to be a school leader,” Lamontagne says. “To see myself and the other sta members as designers is an empowering perspective.” The Future Is IRL AN L.A. FASHION OUTPOST DEBUTS HIGH-TECH SHOPPING. By Erin Feher When it opened its Valencia Street store on February 27, Reformation—the eco-chic cult clothing brand from Los Angeles—debuted what founder Yael Aflalo predicts will be the future of brick-and-mortar shopping. The store features touchscreen monitors, digital fitting room attendees, and “magic wardrobes” inside (well-lit) fitting rooms that fill with desired items and sizes at the touch of a button. All of these bells and whistles aren’t just high tech for high tech’s sake—they’re an attempt to meld the conveniences of shopping online with the tactile experience of shopping in real life, minus the indignities and factory abuses of fast fashion (the majority of Reformation’s clothing is made ethically and sustainably in L.A. factories). The aesthetic of Reformation’s first outpost outside of L.A. and New York eschews the maximalism of high-volume retailers. The clothing racks are sparse and airy, often displaying just one size for each top-selling style. Shoppers use large touchscreen monitors hanging from the walls to add items to their dressing room while they continue to browse. The items are pulled from a stockroom and loaded into the customer’s “magic wardrobe”—a closet with a hidden back panel not unlike those that fishnet-clad magician’s assistants have been known to disappear into. “If you need another size, you simply tap the screen in your dressing room, close your wardrobe doors, and voilà—it appears,” Aflalo says. You can even connect your iPhone to the system, shopping to your very own music and eventually checking out from the privacy of the dressing room—thus avoiding the ever-awkward “And who was helping you today?” dance.

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