A 1970s Warehouse in Sunnyvale, California Gets an Energy-Efficient Retrofit

The retrofit maximizes employee wellness and minimizes the warehouse’s environmental footprint 

San Francisco-based architecture and planning firm WRNS Studio has transformed a vacant tilt-up warehouse, originally built in 1976, into a comfortable, healthy and inspiring net positive energy workplace. The project models a sustainably transformative way to re-use one of Silicon Valley’s most ubiquitous building types — the outmoded 70’s era concrete tilt-up. The result: a modern workplace that exceeds the expectations of today’s creative workforce.

Operable windows and electrochromic glass from View Dynamic Glass keep thermal gain out while enabling 24/7 connectivity with the outdoors. The windows automatically respond to outdoor conditions and people's preferences, or can be controlled individually from a mobile device. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.
Operable windows and electrochromic glass from View Dynamic Glass keep thermal gain out while enabling 24/7 connectivity with the outdoors. The windows automatically respond to outdoor conditions and people’s preferences, or can be controlled individually from a mobile device. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.

When was the project completed?  

2017

How much space? 

45,383 SF

Was this new or renovated space? 

Renovated

A new facade is created with insulated exterior panels. By insulating the exterior, the building is able to resist heat flow effectively while avoiding utilizing valuable usable space on the interior. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.
A new facade is created with insulated exterior panels. By insulating the exterior, the building is able to resist heat flow effectively while avoiding utilizing valuable usable space on the interior. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.

Describe workspace types.

“Sharp Development tapped us to create an attractive, high-performing workplace that would appeal to young, growing companies,” said WRNS Studio Partner and Director of Sustainability, Pauline Souza. “Potential tenants, like Silicon Valley technology firms, seek innovative sustainable office spaces as a recruiting tool for top talent who expect healthy, environmentally responsible workplaces. They see green as a baseline rather than a perk.”

Has the project achieved any special certifications?

This is a net zero energy building and 98.5 percent of all demo material was re-purposed. The project is on track for LEED® Platinum certification.

What is the project’s location and proximity to public transportation and/or other amenities? 

Located in Sunnyvale, close to public transit.

Was the C-Suite involved in the project planning and design process? If so, how?

Sharp Development  Co. led the design of the building. Their mechanical, electrical, structural and daylight engineers, combined with their architect, contractor, marketing people and developer worked together as a team from project inception, enabling Sharp to holistically problem solve effectively throughout the design process, to create one of the healthiest buildings, cost-effectively.

The design utilizes thermal mass and omits the need for an expensive T-Bar drop ceiling by exposing the wood beams and keeping the ceilings as high as possible. The ceiling is upholstered with reflective acoustical fabric, which reduces noise and spreads light more evenly throughout the space. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.
The design utilizes thermal mass and omits the need for an expensive T-Bar drop ceiling by exposing the wood beams and keeping the ceilings as high as possible. The ceiling is upholstered with reflective acoustical fabric, which reduces noise and spreads light more evenly throughout the space. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.

What kind of programming or visioning activities were used?

A holistic approach to sustainable design was used as the vision. The design approach required products and methodologies to serve multiple purposes: Ceilings upholstered with panel fabric made for movie theaters, not only absorb ambient sound, delivering exceptional acoustics, but also reflects the up light from our LED fixtures to deliver an even light to the work surface, while elegantly covering insulation and exposing a beautiful wood structural system.

Were any pre-planning surveys conducted to get employee input?

“I didn’t feel that this type of renovation would resonate, at scale, with the private sector unless you could show that buildings could be renovated to ZNE with carbon neutrality and a strong emphasis on the health and wellness of the occupants in a manner which was more profitable for the ownership than the less expensive way of building to meet minimum code,” said Sharp Development Company, Inc. President Kevin Bates.

A reclaimed wood paneled wall featuring a moss garden creates a natural-looking environment and adds unexpected greenery. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.
A reclaimed wood paneled wall featuring a moss garden creates a natural-looking environment and adds unexpected greenery. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.

Was there any emphasis or requirements on programming for health and wellbeing initiatives for employees?

Yes! Health and wellbeing drove much of the design. The energy-efficient retrofit weaves modern workplace design with the principles of biophila and energy saving strategies. This holistic, cost-efficient approach to sustainable design supports employee wellness, a small environmental footprint, and low operating costs.

Were there any special or unusual construction materials or techniques employed in the project?

  • Daylight floods the space through perimeter windows and advanced operable skylights and is supplemented with full-spectrum LED lighting. All lights are kelvin-tuned to match the color of the sunlight throughout the day helping to keep the occupants circadian rhythm in sync.
  • “Smart” electrochromic glass windows ease heat gain while enabling outdoor views.
  • High-volume low-speed ceiling fans circulate air throughout the open floor plan.
  • High performance exterior insulation system resists heat flow.
Natural light is supplemented with full- spectrum LED color-tunable fixtures. High-volume low-speed ceiling fans allow fresh air to circulate. Image courtesy or WRNS Studio.
Natural light is supplemented with full- spectrum LED color-tunable fixtures. High-volume low-speed ceiling fans allow fresh air to circulate. Image courtesy or WRNS Studio.

What were the major furniture products used?

This space was designed as a “shell” vs. a completed interior. It was a “turnkey” building in which a company could move in to.

Are there any furnishings or spaces specifically included to promote wellness/wellbeing?

The space as a whole is designed to promote wellness/wellbeing. Recognizing the positive impacts that nature has on health, performance and wellbeing, the design elevates and makes evident natural systems. Likewise, strategies for supporting wellness are integrated from the inside out. The outdated interiors were stripped to the bones, revealing exposed wood beams and blackened steel columns. The raw, industrial aesthetic is softened with a reclaimed wood paneled wall featuring a preserved vertical garden. Special consideration was given to natural lighting and ventilation. Generous windows offer seamless connectivity with nature, and daylight floods the space. Operable skylights and smart electrochromic glass windows (activated by sunlight, they become automatically tinted) are complemented by museum-quality, full-spectrum LED color-tunable fixtures. High-volume low-speed (HVLS) ceiling fans allow fresh air to circulate around the open floor plan.

What kind of technology products were used?

All lights, fans, window and skylight actuators are powered over Ethernet. All lights are kelvin-tuned to match the color of the sunlight throughout the day helping to keep the occupants circadian rhythm in sync.

Want more?

Architect/Interiors:  WRNS Studio
Project/Construction Manager: Hillhouse Construction Company
Civil Engineer: Sandis
Structural: SEI
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing: Integral Group
Landscape Architect: Gateway Landscape
Owner: WTA Pastoria
Developer: Sharp Development  Co.
Watertight solar panels double as a trellised-portico providing an attractive, shaded entrance in all weather conditions. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.
Watertight solar panels double as a trellised-portico providing an attractive, shaded entrance in all weather conditions. Image courtesy of WRNS Studio.

 

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3 Comments

  • Very impressive conversion of a vacant 1976 concrete tilt-up warehouse to an innovative and attractive workplace with certain LEED Platinum certification. Congratulations to all involved. I like the idea of the architectural insulated exterior panels over the concrete shell to buffer the exterior temperature swings to make the interior concrete thermal mass a more moderate temperature and easier to regulate. The watertight solar panels over the entrance is a design concept that will hopefully catch on in more commercial and residential applications. There was no mention of the plumbing fixture upgrades or innovations, but the natural and electrical lighting design considerations are impressive. This artful renovation reminds me of the old saying of, turning a sows ear into a silk purse! Thank you Emily for your great article.

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