When we first met with our client - a Calgary-based robotics company - to discuss the design brief for their new 12,000 sm manufacturing and office headquarters, they succinctly expressed what they didn’t want; a boring box. Taking this as our point of departure, we initially identified three primary design challenges: a) meshing the scalar and programmatic requirements of the two seemingly dichotomous programs of manufacturing and office space, b) negotiating through the challenging zoning and by-law regulations presented by our site, which is located immediately adjacent to the YYC International Airport, and, c) creating architecture that would challenge the status quo of the office typology and foster a culture of openness, sharing and collaboration.
To begin with, we partially recessed the parking and the first two floors of manufacturing into the landscape, carving out voids to provide for light, entry and loading requirements. This move produced a topographical plinth on which the office would take its place of prominence, while preserving the views of the open prairie landscape as much as possible. Additionally, the redistribution of earth on the site eliminates the need for earth to be removed from the site in excavation.
The wedge-like form of the building was shaped in part by its proximity to the airport and NAV Canada height restrictions. This sloped form allowed us to maximize the amount of southern natural light available to all employees, democratizing that which is typically privileged to only the few executives within most office typologies. We programmed the resultant sloped roof as a habitable terraced landscape, which brings together an informal amphitheatre, exterior circulation, seating, vegetative landscapes, and terraces that are strategically carved into the roof. This ‘social-scape’ of activity is carefully integrated with the program and circulation of the interior, resulting in a winding, mountain-like path that stitches different zones of the building together. By providing non-prescriptive paths of circulation throughout the building, we hope to spark unexpected interactions between occupants, fostering the open flow of information, innovation and ideas.
The building’s program is organized around a day-lit central oculus that reaches from the roof right down to the manufacturing floor, bringing natural light to all levels. The oculus also acts as an impromptu gathering space for the dissemination of ideas; a sort of inhale and exhale space for the employees to collect for short periods then retreat back to their workspaces. In addition, the central nature of the oculus allows for passive ventilation, drawing daytime heat gain up and out via the stack effect. Lastly, the mass timber structure greatly reduces the carbon footprint of the building, while adding a touch of warmth to the interior material palette.
We restrained from wrapping the entire building in glazing, opting instead to use it in a judicious manner - restricting it to the carved terraces along the inclined south-west facing roof-scape, to a narrow vertical element on the north façade, and to the panoramic southern window. This selective hierarchy of views celebrates the expansive views of the city, the prairie, and the mountains to the southwest. On the east and west facades there is an intentional material shift to translucent polycarbonate panels. This reduces the amount of excess east/west solar gain and the associated load on mechanical systems, while also providing ample diffuse natural light for the office space, contributing to the overall well-being of the inhabitants. By cladding the building exclusively in these two materials, the building will function as a beacon that radiates both light and spectacle out to the open prairie landscape.