An information technology company’s data center redefines an often maligned building type, weaving humans and machines with nature while expressing elegance in the data storage process.
Because of the sensitive nature of data information accumulation and storage, the client’s initial expectation was a windowless tornado proof bunker with heightened post 9-11 security where employees and machines would be concealed together within thick concrete walls; however, a survey of the site’s beautiful lake and topography forced an open dialogue, leading to a form diagram of articulated constituent elements, highlighting human components in full public view while still expressing the information repository’s internal logic and required security.
We posed the question: Why is normal practice to force people to work in an oppressive enclosed environment just for the protection of machines? Dispelling the myth that this utilitarian building type must present itself in an oppressive fashion became a primary goal. We determined that all security requirements could be achieved while creating a healthy light filled employee environment, and that the building could actually be defined by the articulation and expression of different programmatic elements. An intensive study of the methodology of data compilation and distribution showed that one of the highest fire danger comes from employee error at work spaces. Exploding the program into constituent elements allowed humans to be pulled out of the solid concrete machine box, thus reducing risk while creating a better work environment.
The design philosophy is based on the juxtaposition of void and solid, man and machine, public and private. The Entrance Pavilion, nestled in evergreen trees, is crafted as a pure glass cube juxtaposed against the solid raw concrete data box beyond. Trees filter setting sunlight, combining with sunscreens to protect the space without compromising views. Information banking clients, much like those in commercial banking, like to see where their valuable information is being stored. This Entrance Pavilion then functions for receptions, engaging the natural beauty of the site. The building’s two principal forms, open and solid, are keyed together by a sky lit turret-like cone slicing through the glass Pavilion, positioned to allow 220 degree views for level two’s conference and level one’s security office while in full public view. The building is strategically layered by ever increasing security zones, and is master planned to expand to ultimately 160,000 sf in four phases. A thin light filled employee zone stretches the building’s length, opening views to the lake and the natural terrain while greatly reducing electrical lighting, a sustainable solution in a very energy intense building type. A two story “green screen” climbs the glazed facade and softens western light while sheltering employees. Sitting in a sea of wildflowers, a glass stair reflects and symbolically ties together movement of information, people, and nature while offering secure visual control. The site was left as natural as possible, with a sustainable landscaping solution minimizing impact on existing conditions.
Data Technology is confined to the solid, raw concrete vault, with one full level tucked into the hillside, minimizing visual impact while offering maximum protection. Concrete joint patterns replicate simple rows of equipment inside. The project was awarded Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Award, a state AIA Honor Award, as well as the AIA Member Honor Award, voted by the state’s architectural membership as their favorite new building for 2007.