50 years is a long time for any organization, and it's safe to say that most of those that make it that far are not very interested in big changes. And yet, as the American Society of Hematology (ASH)—the world's largest professional organization dedicated to the causes and treatments of blood disorders—hit the half-century mark in 2010, the organization made one of the biggest changes of all, transplanting its international headquarters into an innovative and modern office space in the heart of Washington, D.C.
Designed by global architecture and design firm RTKL, the new 80,000-square-foot headquarters (of which ASH will occupy 40,000 square feet, with the rest being leased to similar groups) redefines the organization's brand with a progressive, open office layout and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification—one of only seven LEED Platinum commercial office buildings in the District of Columbia.
The focal point of the new design is a prominent light-filled stairwell that connects the four floors of the office and features a custom-designed light fixture comprised of hundreds of colored translucent rondelles. According to Dennis Gaffney, AIA, vice president of RTKL, the concept for the striking 40-foot installation—and one of the space's overarching themes—came early on in the project's research phase.
"When we first interviewed the staff, someone mentioned that there are 15,000 members in ASH. These members are doctors, scientists, and really the best minds as it relates to the study of blood," Gaffney says. "When we walked into their original space, there was no representation of these 15,000 members, and we felt very strongly about doing that. So we developed this light fixture to connect the four floors and show that the entire organization is made up of many parts and members."
"It's about connection," he adds. "Wherever you are in the space, you can see that fixture."
In keeping with that theme, the design team from RTKL incorporated a number of features meant to facilitate interaction between staff and visiting members. The building includes an outdoor terrace, a fitness area, common areas on every floor, and a dedicated space called the ASH Club, intended to serve as a space for guests and employees to work, unwind and network. The club is filled with a variety of lounge seating, desks and conference tables, enabling users to choose how they want to work (or relax).
"If there are board members coming in, they might come in a day before, or stay an extra day afterwards. The ASH Club gives them a place to work, relax, print out their boarding tickets for travel," says Gaffney. "It makes it a lot more comfortable for people to come to the building, as opposed to taking up someone's office for half an hour."
Also included is a new multimedia conference center, intended to give the space more functionality and flexibility, and enable the headquarters to host greater numbers of members at any given time. Conference rooms with full-height glass walls and support stations are also positioned at key points near the stairwell.
The concepts of movement and flow—symbolic characteristics of hematology—were similarly captured in the office layout. Workstations, comprised of systems furniture from Allsteel, are organized in a non-linear layout in the center of the floorplate.
"When you have six workstations, they're typically right across from each other," Gaffney says. "We shifted them four feet, so there's more of a movement as you walk through the workstations. There's a feeling of spatial awareness."
Yet, despite the space's sense of movement, the new headquarters also represents ASH's desire for a "zen-like" space. There is a softness to the materials and colors used, and a quietness surrounding the office that bestows a sense of calm. Work areas are designed with low partitions and semi-transparent screens to maximize access to daylight while maintaining a sense of privacy within the open floor plan.
As an organization focused on the well-being of individuals, it's little surprise that ASH made LEED certification another important goal of the project. The building's final rating comes as a particular point of pride for both ASH and RTKL, not just because of its status as one of the few Platinum office buildings in the District of Columbia, but because it did not seem likely at the outset of the project.
"It was pretty significant, because other organizations had looked at the building and didn't think they would be able to achieve LEED Platinum," Gaffney says. "We were able to do it."
LEED certification came primarily through the use of recycled content in woodworking, metals, tiles and carpet; other credits were achieved by relying on regionally manufactured and harvested materials, including rubber flooring from Johnsonite®, rapidly renewable cork flooring from Capri Cork and bamboo flooring from Green Choice Flooring, Intl. The design team earned extra points for setting up ongoing monitoring of indoor air quality and biannual occupational surveys.
All in all, the design team at RTKL has created an innovative space befitting a major organization dedicated to improving the health of people around the world. As ASH embarks on their next 50 years, they will be able to do so in an environment that brilliantly combines their pioneering spirit with the sense of calm that comes from good flow.