In greening its San Francisco headquarters, CHONG PARTNERS ARCHITECTURE "walks the talk" and stands ready to help clients reach their sustainablitity goals.

By Carol Tisch, Contributing Writer

When a 43,000-square-foot office space becomes an incubator for experiments in green design by some of the most outspoken proponents of the practice, potential clients know their design firm has put its money where its mouth is. Clients also know their projects will not become a training ground for designers who haven't lived in a green environment.

LEED Gold certification was obviously one major factor in the decision of Chong Partners Architecture to relocate its headquarters to San Francisco and outfit the space with a green design. The other was that they simply believe good design and sustainability must be inextricably linked in today's workplace.

But such a project has side effects, even for practitioners experienced in the art of creating high-performance green environments. First, the design team's co-workers would become "clients"—daily proof that addressing client concerns before beginning the process will ultimately pay off. Second, Gordon Chong and other partners in the firm would be using the design as a marketing tool for future work, and a living sales tool for the forward-thinking social responsibility they espouse. "We believe sustainable design practices are a set of considerations that should be integral to the design process," explains design partner Bryan Shiles. "Our firm's intention is to always design buildings that are efficient and flexible, comfortable and healthy."

That core belief was the guiding principle behind every decision the team encountered, from the office's overall design plan to the choice of finishes, furniture, lighting and systems. Essential first and foremost to achieve the goal of LEED certification was a building that would support green design. What attracted the Chong designers to the modern 10-story structure at 405 Howard Street they now call home were several unique characteristics, including a central atrium with glass curtain perimeter walls to provide abundant natural light, a raised floor system that allowed under-floor HVAC, and dual-paned glass to enhance insulation and conserve energy.

An open office plan was the team's obvious layout choice because it requires less construction material, and therefore helps conserve resources. With few visual or structural barriers, they could take full advantage of available natural light, and at the same time, an open plan would support the collaborative work style of their architectural practice. The team also felt the layout would foster client involvement in the design process and encourage the exchange of ideas.

Chong Partners' new headquarters were designed around the concept of a creative shed, says Pauline Souza, associate partner. "As a metaphor, the shed contains the idea of openness—open physical space, open communication and the intellectual openness of a lively creative milieu," she explains. "The intent was to create spaces that could be scaled to large or small meetings, and shared with community and professional groups."

As with any other project, the key to success is to hone in on the client's sustainability concerns, say the designers at Chong. "Most clients are interested in sustainability, but each will have a different focus," Souza says. "For example, one client may care most about energy efficiency, which can reduce cost of operations over time, and another places an emphasis on healthy indoor air environment with the benefit of a happier staff.

"While we addressed all of the 57 potential points that can be achieved under the LEED-CI program, we focused our efforts on maximizing energy efficiency and indoor air quality," Souza says. To that end, the team selected furniture, fabrics, carpet tiles and finishes that produce minimal potentially harmful emissions. Sensors that monitor daylight were specified, reducing energy consumption for lighting 30-35 percent less than average (.7 watts per square foot vs. 1.3 watts per square foot).

Senior Associate Cathy Barrett recalls walking around the building before construction and joking that they didn't need to put in any lighting because the space was so bright. "When it came to selecting the fixtures for the space, we worked with Peerless on a new product that matched our aesthetic," Barrett says. "To save energy and lamp life, we decided to use a Lutron Eco-10 dimming ballast in the fixture, and use light-harvesting
sensors to dim lights closest to the windows on bright days. It turns out that we rarely use the lights any brighter than about 60 percent capacity."

The building's raised access flooring allowed for localized system control so that HVAC, power, lighting and security could be digitally controlled by zone throughout the office. In addition to the ambient daylight sensors that save energy for lighting, low-flow kitchen sink faucets were installed to conserve water. Paints and finishes were selected in compliance with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (low-emissions paints, adhesives, sealants and finishes were specified for a healthier indoor environment), digital technology minimizes the use of paper and other resources, and office appliances are all Energy Star-qualified.

Proving Gordon Chong's theory, "sustainability is beautiful," Souza says the team did not have to compromise on aesthetics to use green materials. "We found low-VOC paints in the colors we wanted that did not cost more and have proved to be durable. Our carpet tile with non-PVC backing was in our price range and offered the design we wanted. Our desktops (long, open benches) have a high-quality look and are made of wood from certified forests," she says.

The designers were given the flexibility to be innovative in their approach to millwork. "This was the first time we tried powder-coated MDF and flat-line finishing rather than traditional plastic laminate," Barrett says. "The end product is actually better looking and very nice to touch. We have clean forms without the black core lines from laminate." The team also recycled MDF binder bins from their prior office. "We had them painted orange and collaged them into our reading library. It is a distinctive, funky space with a little bit history. It makes us happy to know that these shelving units were rescued from the dump," Souza says. "If we had built the shelves from scratch, we probably would have done a more rational design from a librarian's perspective, but because the dimensions of the units were inconsistent, random placement solved our problem."

To date, the offices have become a public resource for architectural students and industry associations, reinforcing the firm's identity as a community-based practice. Jean Hanson,
a Chong Partners designer who is also the president of the northern California chapter of the IIDA, says the office has been made available for the chapter's annual meeting
as well as for a seminar on medical privacy practices co-hosted with the IIDA and AIA Healthcare committee.

Leading by example is very convincing, Barrett says. "Clients know that we have been through the process and have had to make smart, sometimes difficult decisions." Given their experience—and status as the only architecture and design firm to receive
a Gold rating in the U.S. Green Building Council's Commercial Interiors Pilot Program—the firm is geared up to help others achieve their sustainability goals.

Sources   Project Team  
Baywood Interiors
Commerical Casework






Chong Partners Architecture
405 Howard Street, Fifth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 433-0120
(415) 433-4368 fax

Chong Partners Architecture
405 Howard Street, Fifth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 433-0120
(415) 433-4368 fax

Sam Nunes, Partner

Bryan Shiles,
Design Partner

Pauline Souza,
Associate Partner

Cathy Barrett,
Senior Associate

Tim Potter,
Project Manager

Melinda Rosenberg, Construction Administration

Abigail Meurk,
Project Manager

Flack + Kurtz
405 Howard Street, Suite 500
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 398-3833
(415) 433-5311 fax