Bauhaus architecture may not be the first thing that comes to mind when visualizing an employee-friendly work environment that encourages human interaction and provides an abundance of intimately scaled informal gathering spaces. This particular style, pioneered in Germany in the early 20th century, is often mistakenly pigeonholed as hard-edged, austere and strictly functional.
But the owners of San Diego-based Biosite Inc., which develops and manufactures diagnostic tools for the healthcare industry, understand the substance beneath the stereotypes. For company co-founders Kim Blickenstaff, chairman and CEO; Ken Buechler, president and chief science officer; and Gunars Valkirs, senior vice president, Bauhaus was the only way to go when planning for the company's new headquarters.
The three lifelong architecture buffs admire Bauhaus and have traveled around the globe to view prime examples of this design style. They saw the construction of a new facility as not only an opportunity to consolidate Biosite's far-flung executive offices, research and development, warehousing, and manufacturing units on a single, incrementally expandable site, but also as a chance to create an architecturally exciting, new campus reflecting the Bauhaus principles.
Additional project goals included improving workflow and opportunities for collaboration in buildings that are energy efficient, sustainable and have an abundance of natural light, even in interior spaces.
"Bauhaus was the credo: the theme used on the whole project," says principal-in-charge Frank Ternasky, AIA, of the architectural firm Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker. "It was used in the site planning, the master planning ... we always referred back to that."
Michael Dunbar, Biosite's head of facilities, comments, "The architects really took time to make sure the style was achievable; they listened to how individual departments work, how they work together, and kept us involved in the whole process."
The human element played a key part in the design of the four Biosite buildings, which are garnering high marks from the occupants for their functionality and comfort. "The thought, inside and out, was to create spaces people would enjoy going to and spending time in," says Michael Wilkes, CEO and principal of Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker. "The interior spaces [are] not very long or tall, [and are not] grand, open spaces. This was intended to create an intimacy of space."
To ensure that employees didn't retreat to their closed offices and miss out on chances to interact with their co-workers, the buildings' intersecting corridors contain numerous collaborative seating areas. "We tried to keep it so we'd offer places for people to congregate; [to] sit and hold a conversation. We tried to keep it so people would feel comfortable," says Dunbar. When employees run into one another, the chance of mixing and mingling often leads to spontaneous sit-down sessions for swapping ideas and getting the creative juices flowing.
"The corridors are slightly wider than normal; the intersections are exuberantly expressed and furnished so that colleagues can get together and speak if they meet in the hallways. There are nooks along the corridors that provide locations where they can talk, meet, or even just sit quietly by themselves," describes Wilkes. The buildings surround a courtyard, another area designed to bring people together, and contain break rooms, garden rooms and a cafeteria with outdoor views.
Since many of the materials the company uses have to be kept in a controlled environment, bridges facilitate the flow of people and products through the buildings' 325,000 square feet of space-making it possible to move about the campus without ever needing to go outside. The bridges' geometrically patterned stained glass walls evoke the paintings of 20th century Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.
Each facility is constructed of tilt-up concrete. "The budget required us to look for efficient ways to design the buildings," says Wilkes. The result is "very vigorous architecture," with angles "punching out and punching in," within the exposed structural system. The concrete interior walls are finished with a process called "sacking": where a skim-coat of cement is troweled on, filling in pits and imperfections and adding texture and color. A reactive stain is then mixed into the skim coat and reacts with the lime in the concrete, resulting in a mottled look and a soft tone that picks up other colors.
Even the stairwells were designed to be inviting, so people would be open to taking the stairs instead of the elevator. The railings are crafted from steel-patterned mesh and frosted glass, and attractive blue and white fixtures illuminate the space. Small colored glass openings punctuate the walls, bathing the surface areas in soft hues as sunlight flows through, highlighting different spots throughout the day.
Throughout the facility, describes Ternasky, "We tried to get light as far into the building as possible. The introduction of light was a big thing with the owners-they didn't want the buildings to feel dark. They went to a little extra effort with the cost so that as many people as possible could see natural light." Transom windows on perimeter offices share light through the walls. The offices also have light shelves to bounce daylight into the interior, so it's almost always possible tell if it's still daylight without looking out a window.
Taking advantage of San Diego's abundant natural light was also part of the energy-efficiency planning, as it helps to reduce the demand for artificial lighting. High-efficiency lighting systems are equipped with sensors that turn off lights in unoccupied rooms. Skylights made of calwall-a thick, insulating fiberglass and plastic material-mimic the Mondrian graphics and brighten up the interiors.
"They're energy conserving buildings, made from sustainable materials," notes Wilkes. "Almost all materials we used were chosen because they're recyclable or made from recyclables. Energy efficiency and sustainability were goals we achieved."
In keeping with the Bauhaus tradition, white is used liberally throughout the campus, and this hue is warmed with rich marble flooring and a wood accent wall in the lobby. Vibrant contemporary art, including framed Bauhaus posters from the 1920s and art commissioned by the owners carry on the theme.
"We tried to use simple materials," says Ternasky. "We were interested in simplifying things ... not using a lot of patterning." Vinyl floor covering was chosen because of its ease of maintenance. At Biosite, "They work with a lot of dyes and chemicals and the floors have to be cleaned nightly," he adds. "We used vinyl tiles in the hallways, with geometric patterns that are decorative and also serve as a wayfinding device. The patterns support the overall design."
The Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker team also consulted on the project's furniture applications-right down to the custom veneer and laminate desks-to help keep the design consistent and ensure that durable furniture was selected.
Dunbar offers high praise for the team effort put forth by Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker. "This project is a testament to their ability to really listen to what the client wants, and to expand on that," he says. "It's a phenomenal project. We get positive comments all the time about the facility and the unique job done with it. It gives people a positive mindset, [and] a new, fresh, enjoyable building to work in."
Dunbar also credits the success of the project to Biosite's co-founders: Blickenstaff, Buechler and Valkirs. "Their interest in and involvement with architecture is unusual, in my experience. Beyond ‘make it look pretty,' most people don't usually understand what goes into a building. The executives here understand architecture and what goes into it. That made my job easier."
Since the site can accommodate up to nine buildings and a total of 800,000 square feet for additional office space, warehousing, R&D, and manufacturing needs, there might be even more exciting developments on the Biosite campus in the future.
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