A low-cost spec’ office building in Grand Rapids, Mich., designed by Thomas Phifer and Partners has won a 2004 AIA Honor Award for Architecture. Featuring a raised-floor system for its entire infrastructure, the flexible structure was built as a prototype “warehouse” for Workstage, a real estate joint venture of Steelcase Inc. begun in 2000.
“Everything comes from the floor, so you can change it at a moment’s notice,” says Thomas Phifer, AIA. “It’s really an open, very flexible warehouse. Nothing comes from the ceiling, even lights. You can reconfigure just about anything you want in there.”
The building enclosure consists of a floor-to-floor glass and aluminum curtainwall system, with a sun-shading system on the east and west elevations. “We have louvers on the outside of the building that stop the heat before it gets into the building, and also throws natural light up onto the ceiling,” notes Phifer.
As a prototype, the building demonstrates Workstage’s aim to “provide the best of design and function to the user…connecting occupants with nature through a unique combination of abundant natural light, air, expanses of glass, operable windows…that allow people to stay in touch with the outside environment during the workday.” Features such as skylights and porches are “designed to provide the vital balance of productive work environments and a sense of well-being for the employees.”
“The porch in the front is actually raised up,” says Phifer, helping to organize multiple entry points, while providing shade to the south elevation of the building. “The pressurized floor becomes a big plenum, a huge duct.” To access the underfloor utilities, he adds, the floor is punctuated by “grilles, affectionately called ‘salad spinners.’”
The underfloor system was key to the design, Phifer explains, because “it allowed us, for instance, to deal with the roof the way roofs like to be: to keep water out and be givers of light to the space. Usually you have all the ducts in the ceiling and mechanical equipment of the roof. That dictates a heavy roof, and a closed roof.”
The raised floor also “allowed us to have an expression of the structure, which was important, so you could see how the building is held up. It allowed us to look at the arch, to simplify and decrease the weight of the roof.”
“Our budget was $70 a square foot,” Phifer continued, “so we had to look at everything in terms of making it economical. We did a lot of very, very simple things that allowed for the economy of the building to be expressed in its inherent nature.”
According the AIA judges, “This project shows that it is possible to design a beautiful and elegant speculative office building — on a modest budget. As a modular and prototypical building, it is designed to be repeated, adapted, or expanded on other sites.” Workstage real estate services are based on developing fast-track new and renovated office spaces with “competitive lease rates” that are “ten percent less expensive than conventional construction methods.”
Dan Kiley of Charlotte, Vt., was landscape architect on the project, and Fisher Marantz Stone did the lighting design. The Workstage Patterson Building currently serves as headquarters for Workstage and a swing-space for Steelcase Inc.