Located in the NoMa neighborhood of downtown Washington, D.C., close to Union Station and Capitol Hill, the recently renovated 999 Union Square building is home to several government agencies, including the D.C. Department of Health, the Internal Revenue Service, the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Homeland Security. It’s also a prime example of how a little tile and stone can warm up even the most stoic of spaces.
Global A&D firm Leo A Daly headed up the interior renovations to the building’s main lobby, common areas on all floors, elevators, restrooms and a new fitness facility located on the first floor—a total of 151,000 square feet. Leo A Daly Senior Designer Pei Tan explains that the company’s goal was to renovate the space “so that it meets the current and future security needs of its government agency tenants, while still providing an open, welcoming and professional-feeling environment.”
According to Tan, that meant designing for functionality while adding a healthy dose of “Washington classical” to appeal to agency decision makers. A larger security area was added adjacent to the lobby, and the design team combined natural materials, such as wood panels, stone and glass, with a contemporary but not too-modern aesthetic.
“The space needed to meet security requirements for government clients, but not look like the ‘bunker’ style of the past,” Tan says. “The project includes both open and closed office layout planning, as well as breakout rooms for conferences and employee breaks. We wanted to meet client needs and expectations for commonality of spaces, as well as their functionality. The design needed to be both beautiful and practical. The intent was to move the design up from Class B level to Class A level.”
The result is a beautiful building with scores of high-performance, high-design touches. A custom-designed security desk, fabricated by Washington Wood Working, now anchors the main lobby space, while flexible LED linear rope fixtures glow behind its curved acrylic panel. New plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures and air filters helped the building achieve LEED Silver certification, while non-porous DuPont Zodiaq recycled quartz countertops in the restrooms keep things clean.
But perhaps the most striking addition to 999 Union Square can be found on its floors and the walls. A limited renovation budget prevented the installation of stone flooring, and traditional small-format tile options lacked the classic contemporary look that designers sought. The problem was solved with the discovery of Lea Ceramiche’s Slimtech tiles.
“After quite a few studies, we located the Slimtech tiles, which have a great, simple elegance and a lower cost,” says Tan. “Most importantly, it is ultra-thin and can be applied directly over the existing flooring, saving the cost of having to demolish the floor. The tile can be easily cut with a large glass cutter. It is low wear and tear. Also, it helped with the transition points between existing grades of floors.”
The Italian tile line can be seen in the main and elevator lobbies, the restroom and fitness center walls, and in the locker room shower area, adding up to a total of 8,000 square feet of tile. Made of lightweight, laminated porcelain stoneware, the tiles contain up to 40 percent recycled content and are only 3 millimeters thick. Available in sizes up to 12 feet by 4 feet per piece, Leo A Daly opted for 40- by 40-inch tiles, allowing for ease and timeliness of installation.
“One challenge was convincing the clients of the value of using the Slimtech tile, because it’s new to commercial installations,” Tan notes. “We were all learning as we went with this different type of ultra-thin tile. We were thankful to have a Lea Ceramics technician demonstrate how to cut this tile and use a thin-set cement and grout technique.”
Natural stone strips were inserted on the floors and walls in limited areas to enhance and blend in with the natural stone-paneled columns in the main lobby. Because the Slimtech tiles have a matte finish, says Tan, adding the strips and panels created a reflective, polished look to the space.
The Slimtech tile flooring extends from the main lobby into the entire main elevator lobby, which also features polished marble inlays and polished stone cladding made of natural marble on the elevator lobby wall. Eight-inch-wide recessed coves on each side of the lobby create a floating effect, and recessed linear lighting fixtures deliver a look of modern simplicity. Inside the six elevator cabs, Slimtech tile was applied to the floors. Incandescent lights were replaced with LED fixtures, while the rear cab walls were paneled with wood veneer.
Union Square is the first large-scale North American commercial project to use Slimtech tiles. “We were working on the renovation and looking for
an alternative flooring finish,” says Tan. “Lea Ceramics introduced the Slimtech to us and it was perfect for our needs, and particularly useful for renovation projects.”
Elianne Halbersberg is a contributing writer to Interiors & Sources. She has previously covered sustainability, architecture and interior design.