Green roofs are used on commercial buildings for various reasons: to moderate energy use, to capture and control rainwater, to achieve LEED or other green building certifications, and to enhance aesthetics. But the vegetation atop 899 W. Evelyn in Mountain View, California, might be a result of a state law that has little to do with design.
Numerous academic studies and books have identified the Golden State’s prohibition of non-compete agreements—which effectively enable Silicon Valley tech workers to change jobs within their industry niche with few legal restrictions—as part of why the region is the center of the digital universe. For employers, however, this means they have to work a little harder to attract, keep, and accommodate talent. “We know that part of how companies compete at drawing talent is with building amenities,” says Dan Minkoff, the developer of 899 W. Evelyn.
A downtown location was a priority for Minkoff. Mountain View hosts divisional and headquarter offices for leading technology firms—Google, Symantec, LinkedIn, and Intuit among them—and many are clustered near commuter rail, light rail, bus, and private shuttle depots. To locate here, an urban concentration, meant building to property lines with no room for on-ground landscaping. So they went to the roof.
What Brick LLP—working with landscape architect Bionic—created is more than a garden; it’s a place to work. In the moderate climate of the South Bay area, where annual temperatures range from the mid-50s to the low 80s, these 13,000 square feet of decking and vegetation provide an enviable office extension. The space accommodates both intimate and larger group settings, while a sand court for bocce, a game easily accessible to athletes and non-athletes alike, is situated alongside a wall that obscures the rooftop mechanicals. “There is a real interrelationship between planted and built areas,” says Rob Zirkle, Brick’s founder and principal. “Modern offices need informal breakout spaces.”
The space is as sumptuous as it is strategic. Both intensive and extensive vegetation (four-foot-deep soil accommodates trees while two to eight inches of growing medium is enough to anchor tall grasses and turf) wraps around a mix of soft-cornered trapezoid-shaped stone patios and wooden decks. Overhead trellises made of wood and steel provide shade, sufficient to prevent glare for laptop users, while a moveable table allows small groups to choose between sunny and shaded spots.
The rest of the building is just as green, with an energy-efficient envelope (including low-E coated windows, some of which are operable), zoned temperature controls, bike parking, limited car parking (because of its proximity to public transportation), and the use of low-VOC materials. Solar panels on the penthouse provide hot water to the building, and bands of sustainably harvested wood wrap the building exterior. “It all adds up to employee satisfaction and productivity,” says Zirkle, who employed Revit BIM software to design the rooftop, accounting for varying angles of sunlight throughout the year.
The green roof was part of a strategy to attract a single tenant that would value an outdoor working space. It worked. Nuance Communications has signed a 12-year lease. Although it is well understood that natural environments stimulate human creativity, perhaps this open-air workplace takes the notion to the next level.