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February 2, 2000
Jury Comments: “We appreciate the commitment on the part of the owner to the integrity of the original building, even with a program that is dramatically divergent. The exterior circulation at each of the floors allows the illusion that the building accommodates the human need for light even in the storage floors.”
By CLAIR ENLOW
Special to the Journal
This is the international headquarters of Shurgard, a rapidly expanding storage company with facilities all over the United States and Europe. Storage is the kind of use most of us associate with suburban office parks, light industrial areas and commercial strips -- not a historic downtown building.
“It’s a unique piece of real estate,” said Shurgard Chairman Charles Barbo.
The handsome, five-story 1913 brick structure was designed by Seattle architect John Graham Sr. as a light truck plant for Ford, and was most recently the home of Craftsman Press. Now, with the help of Fuller/Sears Architects, it has a new life as a corporate home.
“We didn’t want to go out into the suburbs for our national headquarters,” said Barbo. Nor did he want to occupy an executive suite and hold meetings in a downtown office tower. For Barbo and his company’s employees, bold industrial architecture and a casual atmosphere make it just right.
The entrance and bases of the facades were reconfigured to resemble the original Ford Assembly Building, with removable metal awnings allowed by the Seattle Landmarks Board and a new entrance anchoring the corner of the building. The glass and metal of the expansive original windows, typical of industrial buildings of the era, were all faithfully restored.
Consulting project manager:
Builder and primary contractor:
For Shurgard, there is an exciting and thoroughly new reception space in the center of the building. A clerestory “lighthouse,” a part of the company’s logo, pops through the roof to light the two-story reception area. A circle of metal columns grips the floor and recedes in a cone to the daylight far above. On one side, a wide staircase flanked by stadium seating rises toward the fifth floor and more daylight from a window wall above. And on the other side, a large table fills a conference room behind windows in what appears to be stock roll-up panels.
“We’re in the business of garage doors,” explains Barbo. “The whole point of being located in a storage facility is to remind ourselves all the time that we’re in the storage business.”
Around the table are people dressed in Friday-style clothes. That’s fine. Barbo said managers love coming here. Meetings can spill out into the reception space by opening the garage doors, and there is plenty of seating. The reception desk rolls away for large parties.
In addition to the abstract symbolism of the lighthouse, there are reminders everywhere of the nature of the business. The shapes of stacked boxes and slats are design elements in the partitions and cabinetry, and the materials of the storage yard -- corrugated metal, galvanized fixtures and industrial lighting -- are everywhere.
“It’s the client that makes the exceptional project,” said Fuller/Sears principal Bill Fuller, “not the building type.”
Principal and project designer Steven Johnson, added, “They were willing to take some chances.”
“We come together here, in the middle,” said Barbo. “And it happens a lot.”
The whole arrangement resembles the floor plan and cultural feel of a high-tech business. Storage is not a new industry, but Shurgard is gaining momentum in a world where people accumulate things -- and move around -- at an ever faster rate.
In this corporate office, there are a lot of ways for people to communicate, horizontally and vertically. In addition to the dramatic stairway, there is the light well that pierces the top floor. At the edges of the open plan, small stand-alone rooms with slanted walls punctuate the space. Inside are well-appointed private offices available to anyone who needs to use them for a meeting or a phone call or just some quiet, undisturbed time. But nobody lives there. For intensive gatherings, there are project rooms where a team of staffers and managers might be sequestered for a week at a time.
“We like to do projects in difficult jurisdictions,” said principal-in-charge Steve Sears.
It was a partnership born of pride. Shurgard’s corporate newsletter tells the story of the Ford Assembly Plant.
When the construction crew discovered a railroad oil tanker buried far under the small parking lot on the south side of the building, they were surprised. When they found that it was filled with waste oil, they were astounded, but not put off. The inside of the tank was emptied, scoured and refilled with sand, and the renovation went on, becoming part of the history of the place.