“In all of my travels around the world, the important decisions were made where people sat in a circle, facing each other as equals…” – Dan West, founder Heifer International
A National AIA Honor Award winning project, Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects designed every inch of Heifer International's Headquarters to speak about their mission. A world hunger organization, Heifer’s impact in communities starts with the delivery of one animal to one family, known as “passing on the gift”. Like a drop of water generates ripples that flow outward from the impact point, the gift of an animal creates “concentric rings of influence” radiating through a village, allowing sustainable methods taught to the original family to be passed on to others as the animal’s offspring are gifted. Our goal was to design a sustainable headquarters that would exemplify Heifer’s mission, express their sustainable attributes for educational purposes, and allow all employees to work as equals. Heifer would be able to practice what it preaches.
Completed in 2006 for $188.00 per sf, the building’s gentle curve emanates from the overall multi-phase master plan, conceived as a series of concentric rings expanding outward from a central commons that represents the “impact point” of a gift. This commons will begin the public educational experience, leading to the future Global Village exterior exhibits. The reclaimed site, among the largest brownfield recoveries in Arkansas, was once an industrial railroad switching yard whose tracks bisected the property. Using as industrial crusher, existing masonry structures were crushed into a gravel material for use on the site. Bricks were reclaimed for site paving, and 97% of the materials were recycled. The savings in reclaimed usable material paid for the entire site demolition.
Polk Stanley Wilcox's design of the ringed site physically and metaphorically expresses the ripple effect of passing of the gift, which is also reflected in the Headquarters’ layered planning. Crafted to maximize sunlight and rainwater while conserving energy and avoiding pollutants, the headquarters will see a 55% energy saving over conventional buildings. A narrow 62’ wide floorplate and east / west orientation enables natural light to penetrate to the center of floors, allowing every employee light and views. An inverted heavy timber roof directs rainwater through an exposed collection system to a tower for reuse as “gray water” within the building. The water tower, wrapped with a stair in glass, allows people to move as water moves, creating an iconic symbol for environmental stewardship. Glass wrapped stairs are pulled to the edges and float over water, allowing natural convection to pull cooled air off the water’s surface up through the stairs; views and fresh air promote healthy activity. The building incorporates a raised floor system, light and motion sensors, low or non-toxic emitting materials, and high recycled material content. The majority of employees are given the best northern views to the Arkansas River, Riverfront park, and Presidential Library. Five balconies on each floor are sized as outdoor meeting rooms and extend into the wetland, while “tree” like columns extend visually into the wetland as real trees, both representing the symbiotic relationship possible between the man-made and nature. The building and site blend seamlessly into riverfront park, extending existing paths into the building for access to the river and trails.
Water is collected through permeable gravel-pave parking into bioswales between parking bays. Vegetation naturally scrubs pollutants, addressing questions of attaining water, taking it from an unclean to a clean usable state, and moving it to where it is needed. Water is then stored in the wetlands that wrap the building, irrigating the site with little reliance on outside sources. An industrial wasteland is now becoming a thriving ecosystem.
These efforts have allowed the building to become a 2008 National AIA Honor Award winner, a National AIA COTE Top Ten Green Building, the south's first LEED Platinum building, and most importantly serve as a beacon of hope in Heifer’s quest to end world hunger.