A Light Touch
Laura Fisher Kaiser -- Interior Design, 10/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
The Raben Group is the kind of place where all six partners have a say, whether on major issues or mundane matters. This equitable outlook suits a legislative-consulting and lobbying practice specializing in issues of intellectual property and civil rights, but OTJ Architects partners were tickled when most of the Raben Group attorneys—not just a point person—would show up to discuss their new headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In hashing out the details of an environment that encourages lawyers to think differently, OTJ saw an opportunity to incorporate sustainability. "Throw out your files! Live in the natural light!" partner Roger Sola-Solé encouraged his clients.
He now reports that the paperless office was not a hard sell. "There weren't any older attorneys there who wouldn't use electronic materials. Plus, they travel a lot, so most research and files are on their laptops anyway."
The building's main tenant—the Human Rights Campaign, a Raben Group client—had already gutted the structure and rehabbed it, complete with new HVAC and energy-efficient windows. "Borrowed light" became the main driver of OTJ's design, thanks to a floor plate just 38 feet across. Perimeter offices' storefront system and a glassed-in conference room allow indirect natural light to penetrate, no matter where the sun is. Window shades of thermoplastic olefin, recyclable and PVC-free, cut glare but not the urban silhouette of Dupont Circle.
Materials used—or, more to the point, omitted—are also key to sustainability. Conspicuously absent are massive file cabinets and endless shelves of dusty legal tomes. Drywall is minimal and includes recycled content, as does carpet. In most of the 3,700-foot-space, the concrete floor is bare, save for low-VOC paint. "No matter how recycled or recyclable carpeting is, it creates waste when you tear it out," explains OTJ partner Lance Jaccard.
OTJ left structural columns naked not only to minimize drywall but also because the concrete's raw texture was "too beautiful to cover," Jaccard says. However, the architects did soften each column by sheathing its base in regionally milled ash planks, echoing the treatment of the reception desk.
White walls show off founder Robert Raben's contemporary-art collection. Burnt orange dramatizes details and ties in with the Raben Group logo, redone in a recent branding campaign.
The possibility of "unbuilding" later on is another aspect of the cradle- to-cradle approach. If the Raben Group grows, Jaccard says, "The storefront system, for example, is easy to dismantle and then re-create in a larger environment."
That flexibility makes itself evident throughout the large central reception area, which flows around the glass-box conference room. When the room's doors open, attorneys suddenly have a grand space for events. Even during working hours, a tempered-glass counter extends beyond the reception island to accommodate a couple of stools— a perfect spot to sip a latte and savor the view.