Cover Story: ‘Rio’ of Change

May 19, 2009

HOK’s transformation of Rio Tinto’s regional headquarters combined progressive sustainable design with substantial relocation and consolidation efforts, requiring the A&D firm to ‘dig deep.’


Talk about “change you can believe in.” One of the most remarkable workplace transformation projects in the annals of commercial design occurred during the 2008 presidential campaign.

It was implemented without a lot of national fanfare, but with much deliberation and teamwork. From the get-go, an innovative change management program helped ease the relocation process—supporting 600 Rio Tinto employees from four different locations in the Salt Lake Valley as they transitioned into to a new, state-of-the-art Rio Tinto Regional Center in South Jordan, Utah. Ironically, the seamless four-phase move took place just one month before the election. Talk about “yes we can!”

Indeed, this was no ordinary consolidation project. The Rio Tinto Regional Center occupies 130,000 square feet of the 175,000-square-foot Daybreak Corporate Center—the first LEED® Platinum commercial building in the state of Utah. In addition to meeting corporate sustainability standards, the interiors (LEED Gold certification pending at press time) also reflect a new global workplace strategy which was first implemented in 2007 at the Rio Tinto Group’s headquarters in Paddington, London.

“We looked at this as a workplace transformation project because it had several components,” explains Mindy Glover, Rio Tinto’s regional manager of group property for the Americas. “We weren’t just four different locations moving into a new building; we were 12 to 13 different business units and departments … each with its own leadership, identity and business focus.” The relocation has reduced square footage and related occupancy costs by about 30 percent, due primarily to a reduction from 200,000 square feet in four separate, aged buildings to the energy-efficient LEED Platinum regional center.

But the consolidation had several other equally important objectives. It was designed to create a global facility that would embody Rio Tinto’s branding and culture, and to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing between the newly combined groups. What’s more, a new global emphasis on distributed work and flexible working mandated an environment that was 100 percent open plan. “The move to open plan represented a significantly different way of working than our employees were accustomed to, so there were challenges on the change management side,” confides Glover.

Meeting those challenges required a formal engagement strategy which was developed by Glover and several internal Rio Tinto groups (People & Organizational Support, Communications & External Relations, Facilities Management, etc.), who worked in tandem with HOK Los Angeles, the firm retained to provide workplace visioning, programming and interior design services for the project.

“We do a lot of advanced strategies work at HOK, but I don’t ever recall being as personally engaged on any other project as I was on this one,” says Pam Light, FIIDA, principal at HOK and design principal on the project. “With Rio Tinto, we engaged early with the employees, at the start of programming, and stayed with them through design and construction—which is very rare. We were there with Mindy and her team making commitments to stakeholders throughout the process, telling employees: ‘You will have great amenity space. You will have enough room for meetings. You will have spaces to chat with your coworkers.’ With this move to an entirely open plan, they needed assurances that their needs would be met.”

A steering group (comprised of leadership from all four locations, but not necessarily from each business unit/department) was responsible for project leadership, decision-making and keeping the project team informed about the concerns and needs of its 600 stakeholders. “We actually mapped out all the phases of the project, the change objectives we wanted to meet and how best to meet them,” says Glover. The engagement strategy was rendered even more effective with tools HOK had previously used for change management programs with other clients: focus groups, design exhibitions, furniture mockups, and tours of the workplace-in-progress.

“We reviewed several firms for this project, and ultimately went with HOK because they had demonstrated experience in open plan and flexible work environments, as well as change management,” notes Glover. “Equally important, and a deciding factor was HOK has always demonstrated itself to be a sustainable design group.”

This complements Rio Tinto’s own global sustainability commitment—a holistic one that looks at environmental, economic and community impact. In fact, the new Rio Tinto Regional Center is housed in the first large-scale commercial development within Daybreak, a 4,200-acre sustainable community where 20,000 homes and up to 13 million square feet of commercial space are planned. The live-work-play community (including the new corporate center), was developed by Kennecott Land, a Rio Tinto company established in 2001 to convert surplus mining land to provide homes, schools, shopping, medical, dining … and a host of other amenities to Rio Tinto employees.

Rio Tinto Group is a leading international mining group that finds, mines and processes the Earth’s mineral resources—metals and minerals essential for making thousands of everyday products that meet society’s needs and contribute to improved living standards. The company has 80 million employees in 40 countries; and its major products include aluminum, copper, diamonds, energy products (coal and uranium), gold, industrial minerals, and iron ore.

In fact, Rio Tinto’s copper mines and natural warm neutral tones of the Salt Lake Valley served as inspiration for Barbara Ostroff, project designer from HOK Los Angeles, in developing the actual interior design of the Rio Tinto Regional Center. “I had never been to Salt Lake City, and when we arrived for the job interview I was really struck by the colors and the light—they were different from any place I had been before,” she explains.

The design of the building itself helped Ostroff achieve her goal of capturing those colors indoors. The building is encircled by 11-foot windows that bring daylight to the interior core on each floor and offer more than 90 percent of occupants access to incredible views of the Oquirrh and Wasatch Mountain ranges. “HOK really nailed it with respect to understanding our objectives in terms of developing a modern, flexible working environment that integrated who we were as a company,” explains Glover. “There really seems to be a connection between the finishes and colors that happen inside with what’s happening on the outside,” she continues, “and that connection to the outside is important—not just from the standpoint that it makes the Rio Tinto Regional Center a pleasant place to work—but from the sustainability standpoint; being connected to the outside and to the community is very important to us.”

Visitors entering the main lobby are greeted by both corporate branding and environmental references through Ostroff’s choice of color and material finishes. “Because the lobby is a controlled space without any views to the outside, we were able to further emphasize the brand identity,” says Ostroff. Rio Tinto’s corporate colors are reflected in the red and white Knoll furniture. Since the major mining activity in Salt Lake City is copper, HOK subtly referenced the metal with copper accents in the lobby floors, detailing on the reception desk, and in the copper-metallic Scuffmaster paint on the kiosk.

Rio Tinto’s commitment to sustainability is chronicled on interactive screens arranged throughout the lobby area; reception seating faces a plasma screen that serves as the LEED sustainability kiosk, addressing the sustainable features of the building. “The infrastructure of the building was already set up to help us with the design of the systems to obtain LEED Gold-level certification,” explains Lori Selcer, senior associate and interiors LEED champion at HOK.

Occupying a LEED Platinum building earned three credits toward Rio Tinto’s Gold certification. Other credits were received for proximity to alternative transportation; for existing amenities, including on-site bicycle racks and changing rooms; carpool parking; and shuttle bus service from the parking lot. The USGBC also recognized that the building is located adjacent to the future Mid-Jordan TRAX line and Mountain View Corridor.

In developing the interiors, Rio Tinto Regional Center diverted 75 percent of construction waste from landfill, for which LEED credits were earned. Innovation credits were received because Rio Tinto agreed to contract for 100 percent green power for a two-year period (the requirement for LEED credit is a 50 percent contract for two years).

Throughout the regional center, low-flow fixtures are expected to achieve a 30 percent reduction in water use, according to Selcer. The building incorporates a design that promotes very high indoor air quality with an HVAC system that is projected to use 40 percent less energy than a standard building, and exceeds minimum standards for fresh air changes. MERV 13 filters were installed for higher levels of filtration, and CO2 levels are permanently monitored and controlled. Separate meters for the company’s space in the building are programmed to track energy usage for benchmark comparisons with other Rio Tinto facilities.

“We received all credits for low VOCs, which is standard operating procedure for every HOK project, and includes paints, adhesives, sealants, carpeting, and furniture,” reports Selcer. She calculates that 50 percent of wood used in the project is FSC-certified, including architectural wood and furniture. “That’s the result of a good team effort between furniture dealers, the contractor and designers—and that’s what LEED is all about: teamwork.”

LEED Innovation credits were also earned for a green cleaning janitorial program, which is required of all tenants of the building. “They’ve gone so far as to implement a pilot program on the reduction and/or elimination of disposable paper products in the kitchens, which have been replaced with dishes and glassware,” notes Light. “Rio Tinto is much more ‘green’ than most clients,” she continues. “It’s an amazingly significant commitment to sustainability—it’s walking the walk of your talk.”

For employees, the most dramatic change was the replacement of traditional offices and meeting rooms with a total of 11 Rio Tinto global work space types designed to meet the needs of emerging work patterns. Hierarchical office configurations were replaced with Allsteel workstations that were outfitted with the same executive-sized desks for all employees. Creating a high-tech wireless environment was vital to the success of this new flexible environment and workplace strategy, according to Glover.

“It was important to have sufficient support in terms of technology so that people could move around to the various space types and function without interrupting their work,” says Glover. The regional center is wired throughout: from capsules and telebooths for quiet work and private conversations; to conference, brainstorm, library and project rooms; to informal drop-in spaces for work, rest or refreshment.

The open plan workstations were equipped with low panels to maximize natural lighting, according to Selcer. “One of the goals of LEED is to provide a healthful environment for occupants, and Rio Tinto earned a number of related credits because [most] occupants have access to daylight and views,” she says. Selcer also points out that 15 percent less energy consumption in lighting is attributed to the abundance of natural light in the space. Overall, she estimates energy and water consumption are expected to be reduced a minimum of 20 percent.

In addition, LEED credits were awarded for a sophisticated lighting control system with dimmers tied to daylight and occupancy sensors. Even Koncept LED task lights at work stations are efficient, requiring only nine watts to generate 100 watts of power.

Efficiencies derived from 100 percent open plan and the consolidation of employees into the new Rio Tinto Regional Center created space for new amenities: a fitness center, two-story library, dining room, and more. “Rio Tinto designed great amenities to really support their people,” says Light. “There’s an outdoor roof deck, jogging trails—even a recreational lake for kayaking. It’s just spectacular,” she concludes.

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4700 W. Daybreak Pkwy.
South Jordan, UT 84095
(801) 204-2000

Mindy Glover,
Regional Manager
Group Property (Americas)



HOK-Los Angeles
9530 Jefferson Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 838-9555

Pam Light, FIIDA, principal/design principal
Barbara Ostroff, project designer
David Leckie, project manager
Peter Heinbecker, job captain
Younmi Kang, design/technician
Lori Selcer, LEED project administrator

Kennecott Land Company

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