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June 7, 2000

One foot in the sky

  • Industrial park warehouse becomes an urban-style high-tech headquarters
    Special to the Journal

    Many office workers would not be tempted to move from Carillon Point to a former grocery warehouse in Bellevue. But when it was time to say goodbye to the Kirkland waterfront, most of Teledesic's employees did not find it hard to pack. They were ready to work in a place that expressed their creative energy, and their new home said it all.

    Bold features at the entry to the Teledesic headquarters bring excitement to a 1970s loading dock. Photos by Steve Keating and Scott Wyatt.

    Teledesic is a startup high-tech company in the process of designing a global satellite system intended to be the "Internet in the sky." The company had been spreading into a cluster of offices at Carillon Point and was feeling the strains of growth and crowding. Teledesic had reached an important stage of development, and the new workplace would define the company's identity, attract the new talent and help take it to the next stage of development.

    A railroad track runs along the side of the warehouse building, and there is a large recycling center across the parking lot in front. But broker Craig Kinzer saw possibilities in the site and called NBBJ in for a quick study. What followed was the transformation of a grocery warehouse and loading dock into an exciting home base for a global enterprise with operations in space.

    Along with its mission of combining the information age with the space age, the company has some very down-to-earth goals. Remodeling and reuse is a part of it. Even for its satellites, Teledesic intends to make use of as much existing material as possible, and it would not make any sense to do less on the ground. The choice of the site and the building itself reflects these values. Retaining much of the existing building and bringing in spare parts as details were basic to the design.

    Project of the Month

    Teledesic, 1445 120th N.E., Bellevue



    Project type:
    Adaptive reuse

    70,000 square feet

    Completion date:
    May 1999

    Structural, mechanical and electrical engineer:
    Ove Arup & Partners

    Civil engineer:
    Coughlin Porter Lundeen

    Landscape designer:

    General contractor:

    Jury comments: "A complete reversal of the original use to the new use: taking a warehouse and creating a human-scaled environment. This project accepts the tilt-up origin of the building, works with its bones -- right down to retaining the truck bays -- and adds elements which provide an essential human quality. The beauty of the approach is that the interiors which I find trendy can be changed over time without altering the base building."

    "Our interventions are really very simple," said NBBJ principal Brent Rogers.

    Rogers' approach to turning a warehouse into a corporate headquarters could be summed up in two words: subtle transformation. The rhythm and integrity of the tilt-up concrete slab walls and the loading docks is retained, so that the renovated warehouse is visually connected with the entire facade of the 1970s development. But the character of the building is transformed, from industrial park utility to urban high-tech.

    The most prominent feature of the renovation is a series of very large monitors that break through the upper northern walls of the building and face slightly toward the sky. They bring the first wave of daylight into the former warehouse. Working within the rhythm and scale of the industrial park, they also make the Teledesic headquarters into a completely new presence at the site.

    A layered composition of ramps and planting beds leads the visitor from the surface of the vast parking lot in front of the building to the entrance, which is at the level of the previous loading dock. The exterior was sandblasted and sealed to expose the original concrete. The garage doors in the loading dock were retained in the form of multicolored glass tinted with sky colors that mask the view of the recycling center.

    The circulation axis projects out of the building as a concrete wall marking the entry. In the spacious reception area, raw and burnished steel on the floors and on the sliding industrial doors of the wall set the edgy, urban mood. Many of the welded parts are recycled industrial pieces.

    Behind the doors on one side is a full service Tully's coffee house. A row of purple "landing lights" in the floor lead back to the large interior doors and through the building. On the other side, a row of specially fabricated bike racks marks the boundary of the entryway, facing an array of informal seating areas a few steps below.

    A panoply of warm and cool colors and sculptural furnishings invite visitors and all the users of the building to find their own corner for conversation. From light fixtures to custom rugs to tables and chairs, subtle allusions to satellites and space lighten the mood and express the company's mission.

    A stairway swings down to the Teledesic floor from the catwalk.

    The scale for furnishings, Rogers noted, is somewhat large. "In a 27-foot-high space, you don't want to feel cramped."

    The gigantic space and structural bones of the warehouse are very much a part of the design of Teledesic headquarters. One of the highest priorities of the redesign was to bring in light, but placing windows in outside walls is problematic. Teledesic has the same needs as many high-tech startups -- privacy and security. And on the front side, the building faces a large parking lot and a recycling center. The architects' solution is to bring in daylight from above, through gigantic ceiling monitors staged from front to back, to reach every corner of the open floor plan.

    The light is not blocked by the usual tangle of ductwork found with an exposed ceiling. The electrical, data and telecommunications components are under the raised floor, along with the mechanical air supply plenum for the heating and cooling systems.

    "This is really an office building turned upside-down," said Rogers.

    A system of 2-foot-square concrete "tiles," each wired for personal computer setup, can be lifted to reconfigure work locations. This arrangement suits one of the primary needs of any high-tech company in the early stages of development: high flexibility in the environment.

    Williamson and Rogers
    Julie Williamson of Teledesic with architect Brent Rogers. Photos by Clair Enlow.

    The plan itself is simply organized into three large zones, each of which serves several purposes. The first, right inside the front of the building, is entry, reception and seating areas on a lowered floor along the outer wall. The second is a two-level zone with offices on a mezzanine that seems to float in the middle of the warehouse. There are conference and meeting rooms below the mezzanine, accessible from the front and back of the building. The mezzanine section forms a physical and perceptual buffer between the public and the more secure areas of the company headquarters. Rooms toward the front are semi-public, with conference areas for visitors and office areas for temporary workers. In the back of the mezzanine section are meeting areas for management and full-time employees.

    The rest of the building is a very loft-like, well-lit open space for the core Teledesic staff.

    A catwalk spans the gap between the mezzanine and the rear wall, reaching to a large landing from which a sweeping stairway descends to the floor. The landing has been at times a floating conference room and at others a stage for a steel drum band. In addition to adding visual excitement and depth to the warehouse space, the catwalk provides a way for anyone to survey the office landscape below, where the CEO works in a cubicle just like all of the other personnel.

    Dominating each side of the huge space are two full-height squares of black burnished steel, behind which the mechanical plant for the facility is located. The landscape office plan is enlivened with personal works of art brought in by individual employees. On one corner, the original wall of the warehouse has been moved to make room for a large terrace where employees enjoy sun breaks, outdoor lunches and casual cookouts on Friday. Looking out over the green lined-railroad track, the outdoor area is very secluded. The garden in the back can also be glimpsed through one-story-high windows along the wall.

    As expected, the new work environment now plays an important role in the company's recruitment strategy, according to human resources director Julie Williamson. One visit usually does it, she said. "It's a great place to work."

    The Project of the Month feature is sponsored by the Daily Journal of Commerce and the Seattle Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Design categories include all types of construction with the exception of single-family houses. Projects are selected for the feature with the participation of distinguished architects and other members of the arts and design communities, as well as representatives of client groups. The Project of the Month for June, Teledesic, was selected with the assistance of architects Clint Pehrson and Patrick Gordon.

    For more information about submitting projects for possible feature articles, contact Peter Sackett of AIA Seattle at (206) 448-4938 or via e-mail.


    Clair Enlow can be reached by e-mail at clair@clairenlow.com.

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