When an existing historic building that is already LEED-certified comes up for a renovation, where does the design process start? For the pioneering team at Gensler responsible for the transformation of The Alliance Center in downtown Denver, it began with taking sustainability to a different level by “breaking trail.” It meant treating lease performance and workplace productivity metrics as equally important as energy and resource efficiency metrics associated with high-performance buildings.
Among the challenges facing the design team was the fact that the Alliance Center had already undergone a major energy efficiency and high-performance systems renovation (except for the replacement of the 1950s HVAC system) in 2004-2005, earning not one, but two LEED certifications—Existing Buildings Gold and Commercial Interiors Silver—from the U.S. Green Building Council. Working closely with the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, Gensler responded to the client’s desire
to create a space that would not only build on the site’s environmental track record but also attract and retain tenants looking to facilitate sustainability through collaboration by re-imagining a multi-tenant, nonprofit center that directly links all groups working toward the same “green” goals.
“The project took a big evolution in that, given our history of being a green building, we were looking to pioneers like [Seattle’s] Bullitt Center and that type of sustainable model, and asking, ‘How do we really go to the cutting edge of resourcing and building performance?’” recalled Jason Page, vice president of operations for Alliance for Sustainable Colorado. Because the renovation and replacement of the outdated HVAC system presented such a significant impact on the entire facility, he said the design team agreed “not just to fix the HVAC system, but use [the renovation] as an opportunity to think about what this building should be going forward.”
This change in thinking caused the team to redirect its attention to the building’s tenants—the majority of which are also nonprofit organizations—and supporting their missions. “That [decision] led us to really focus on the design—still with an environmental vigor and considering the footprint and impact our building has on the world but more [in terms of] how people actually use it day to day, and how we can design it for those types of occupants and the work that they do,” Page explained.
To achieve this, Gensler created an open, healthy, flexible, and light-filled space that would promote the cross-pollination of ideas while encouraging spontaneous interactions among tenants and visitors. The building’s original entry was restored to create a strong street presence along a major thoroughfare, while a new lobby design offers occupants and guests opportunities for interaction as well as a strong visual introduction to the nonprofit’s brand and mission.
The building’s most notable features include glass walls that allow greater access to natural light, quiet workspaces next to technology-rich collaboration spaces, energy-efficient upgrades, unique eco-friendly products and recycled materials, and an event space that can accommodate up to 200 guests. The re-designed Center also boasts a cafe and bar in the main lobby in partnership with Serendipity Coffee Bar, a like-minded company that supports fair trade and sustainable initiatives.
Additionally, the renovation nearly doubled the building’s maximum occupancy, increasing both revenue and efficiency. The new Alliance Center features 40,000 square feet of usable space across seven floors. It offers shared services and office space at below-market rates to more than 40 nonprofits and businesses (including many of the pre-renovation tenants) focused on sustainability, social justice, education, and economic prosperity for a 50-percent increase overall and with plenty of room for more.
Since its latest renovation with Gensler, the Alliance Center has become the first building in Colorado and the fifth building in the world to receive LEED Dynamic Plaque certification, reaching the Gold level and solidifying its status as a state and national leader in green buildings. “The renovation allowed us to achieve those levels in performance,” Page noted. “We invested heavily in the type of systems and smart building [technologies] that are now proving we’re able to operate at the highest degree of efficiency and performance according to those rating systems.”
Beyond simply impressive building performance, Page said the Alliance Center project also demonstrates historic structures don’t need to be limited by the types of services or amenities they can provide; they can be just as attractive and robust as newer buildings if they are upgraded thoughtfully and responsibly.
“By focusing on the design process, top to bottom, and what it means for our building, we were able to double our occupancy having similar—if not more—potential revenue and all the while have a lot more amenities and services to offer to our community,” he said. “To do that considering the historic nature [of the building], it’s doing something that’s very forward looking—kind of the next wave of how folks are using their real estate with this historic structure and what some of those challenges end up being. That’s where we’ve become unique—not letting that cap us or restrict what the building becomes and just adding to it.”
Exposed 20-foot Douglas fir beams from the 1900s
celebrate the history of the Alliance Center building
while lending warmth to the contemporary space.
Demountable Wall Systems
Altos architectural wall partitions facilitate cost-effective reconfiguration or full relocation as requiredwhile utilizing glass to improve sight lines and daylighting
Conference rooms and event spaces were outfitted with Encore’s Nexxt and Flurry chairs.
Designed by Jeffrey Bernett and Nicholas Dodziuk, the Spectrum lounge offers a contemporary aesthetic while lending functionality with broad armrests that support laptops.
The high-back version of the Kurve chair on a swivel base, designed by Alan Dandron and Avery Handy, adds both style and comfort to this casual area.
The Panton chair, made of flexible yet durable polypropylene, is featured here in a vibrant orange hue, which coordinates with accent walls.
Planks of cork flooring from the Avante Garde collection were a natural choice for their sustainability and durability characteristics.
Upholstery fabric in solids and stripes from Knoll add splashes of color and pattern throughout the space.
Designed by Philippe Starck, the Broom chair is made from 75-percent waste polypropylene and 15-percent reclaimed wood fiber that would normally be swept into the trash.
Hexagonal carpet tiles from Interface were selected to add pops of color and absorb sound.
The armless Ballara chair responds to the idea that lounge spaces are becoming important social and collaborative areas within offices
The Cork Family by Jasper Morrison displays the advantageous natural properties of cork: the pieces are comparatively lightweight and extremely durable with a smooth texture.
Equal parts design, comfort, and value, the ergonomic Wit chair was specified for task seating.
Workstations were generously offered to the Alliance Center at a deep discount by Teknion, which understood the innovative nature of this sustainability hub.