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For a Northern California regional headquarters, Nortel knew what number to dial
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum's history with Nortel Networks spans three decades, four continents, and more than 1,000 projects—and that doesn't even include the work of HOK's Advance Strategies arm, which has teamed up with the telecommunications leader as a business consultant. Prior to the last economic downturn, HOK San Francisco completed the company's two-building campus in Santa Clara, California.
This regional headquarters, built to consolidate 10 offices, consisted of twin six-story buildings, each encompassing 300,000 square feet; a shared 20,000-square-foot cafeteria; and two 1,000-car garages. All were set on 14 1/2 acres.
Subsequently obliged to downsize by half, Nortel leased out one of the buildings. However, Nortel's 1,200-count staff still occupies the other building—which continues to epitomize HOK's mastery of high design on a relatively low budget.
Downsize is a relative term: Even one of the Nortel buildings is huge on its own. In designing them, HOK rotated each slightly to create the look of a pair of buildings, and this separation is accentuated by a shift in curtain-wall materials from glass and aluminum to panels of aluminum painted white.
The rotation is expressed inside as well, with "floor plates broken into two 25,000-square-foot halves," explains HOK vice president Matthew Winkelstein, a senior designer on the project. This yields four satellite office sectors arranged around a wedge- shape center zone, the main organizing device.
As an antidote to a workplace that's 90 percent open, Nortel needed team areas and break-out zones. The central wedges suit that purpose admirably. The double-height "living rooms," as they're called, serve two office floors apiece. On the lower level, an open lounge is set up outside a glass-fronted elliptical conference room. Above runs a mezzanine balcony, surmounted in turn by an indoor "roof" of corrugated aluminum. The metal is set aglow by a ring of cathode lighting, which announces each floor's color code.
HOK embraced the entire spectrum as a second organizational tool. In ascending order, floors are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. At each floor's terminus, the scheme is reinforced by a stair tower's graphics. Ten-foot-high painted drywall panels display the floor number, a squiggle of one to six wavelengths, and their corresponding nanometer values.
The stair treatment was devised by Hal Kantner, director of visual communications at HOK in Houston, and represents but one aspect of an environmental graphics program that helped Nortel reduce costs. The paint and drywall stand in for luxury materials and finishes. Inexpensive color elements play a role, too, in the cafeteria and the passageway that connects the two buildings.
In the cafeteria, nylon-mesh screens in spirited shades of red and orange create semiprivate dining areas. Above groupings of chairs by Arne Jacobsen and tables topped in plastic laminate, fluorescent tubes gelled in yellow, lime green, and pink shine out from recesses in the perforated-aluminum ceiling.
On one side of the 160-foot-long passageway, an aluminum-framed storefront system presents a grid of laminated glass panels ranging in color from apple green to orange and sky blue. The grid, minus the color, is reflected in the five garage doors that form the opposite wall—or roll up electronically to a garden courtyard.
The exception to Nortel's frugality rule, the executive briefing center had a separate budget. At the entry to this 15,000-square-foot showplace, where company interacts with clientele, another variation on the spectrum theme makes an appearance. It's a kinetic LED light show, played on a timed loop.
In the circulation hub of the facility stands its architectural highlight, a canopy of dichroic-glass panels sandwiched between acrylic. It's surrounded by equipment- display areas, meeting rooms, and a dining room—in all of which HOK lavished time and money on acoustics, AV technology, and lighting. "Communication is essential," says the project's other senior de- signer, vice president Nancy Jones. "And light makes vision possible."