Auto enthusiasts swear it: if you like driving sports cars, it should be on your bucket list to do it on the Autobahn, Germany’s federal highway system. Although they look like typical freeways, the Autobahn’s roads are perfectly maintained and superbly engineered. Plus, on a good portion of them, there’s no permanent speed limit. So, the Autobahn could be the best place on Earth to drive a sports car, but a close second might be the new $100 million Atlanta headquarters for Porsche in North America, which will have a 20-acre test track capable of winning over even the fussiest car fiends, whether they’re amateur drivers or professional racers, when it opens later this year.
“It’s the headquarters for Porsche in North America, but it’s also an ‘Experience Center,’” says Daniel Barcham, senior project manager at Mace North America, which is overseeing the project on Porsche’s behalf. “That Experience Center includes over 1.6 miles worth of track facilities with a number of different modules, including a handling circuit, low-friction circuit and circle, dynamic area, and kick plate, all of which are opportunities for Porsche to showcase its sports cars and what they can do.”
Along with Porsche products, the German automaker’s Atlanta offshoot will showcase the essence of the Porsche brand: efficiency. Which is embodied perfectly in the company’s flagship vehicle, the Porsche 911. “Sports cars aren’t inherently green, but the Porsche 911 is a different story,” Barcham says. “Porsche sports cars have always been small, light, and efficient, and the 911 is one of the most—if not the most—efficient cars for horsepower in its class. So, efficiency is at the core of Porsche. Everything needs to be efficient, and with efficiency comes sustainability.”
When they arrive at the new headquarters of Porsche in North America, visitors will hear a cacophony of engine noises. Some of them will belong to cars whooshing by on the test track, but others will be from planes passing overhead as they arrive and depart from Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, adjacent to the facility.
“Location was extremely important to Porsche in choosing this site,” Barcham says. “Atlanta’s airport is within two hours of 80 percent of the population of the U.S. Being within minutes of the airport allows the business and its employees simple access to travel. Equally important, however, is visibility. If you’re landing at Atlanta Airport, your flight path is right on top of us; if you look out your window, you’ll be looking down on top of this building and the test track itself.”
Indeed, as a marketing opportunity, the site is unmatched. More than that, though, it’s a perfect foundation on which to build—literally—the Porsche brand.
“The facility, not unlike a Porsche, balances efficiency with performance and experience,” says Darren Draper, the commissioning department manager at Epsten Group, which is providing LEED building commissioning services on the project. “The site is actually a redeveloped brownfield, which is pretty uncommon for a new facility. A greenfield might have been less work, but also less rewarding from a sustainability perspective.”
The site had been home to a Ford Motor Company plant. “They built Ford parts here for many, many years,” Barcham says. “When their operations ceased here in 2006, the Ford plant was demolished, and the site became available not long thereafter.” Porsche relied on the geotechnical engineering of AMEC to analyze the site’s existing conditions.
Its brownfield status is significant, but so is its size. At 27 acres, the site is large enough to accommodate multiple lines of business, including not only Porsche Cars North America, which acts as Porsche’s North American importer and distributor, but also previously scattered business units like Porsche Financial Services, Porsche Consulting, and the Porsche Technical Service and Training Center. This consolidation will help Porsche perpetuate the tremendous growth its seen since the recession; sales of Porsche cars in North America have grown from approximately 19,000 units in 2009 to 42,000 units in 2013. “Continuing [Porsche’s] significant growth requires having the best possible environment for its employees, and part of that is bringing all the business units under one roof to create a Porsche family,” Barcham says.
Because the Porsche family is very much rooted in the local community, the site also is notable for its potential to stimulate future development in a previously depressed, industrialized area. “Porsche has been a resident in Atlanta for a number of years, so the opportunity to become a corporate citizen was important to them to cement their presence in the region,” Barcham says. “Hapeville, which is the specific community we’re located in, is an area that will undergo a lot of urban regeneration over the coming years, and Porsche’s new facility is going to be a catalyst for that.”
When it decided to build a corporate headquarters that embodied its brand, Porsche Cars North America started with the site, but it didn’t stop there. “We have a unique facility; there isn’t another building like it in the local market, the national market, or anywhere else in the world,” Barcham says.
The design, courtesy of HOK, consists of a horseshoe-shaped building that wraps around a central courtyard. Encompassing 235,000 square feet that ultimately will house up to 400 employees, it makes room for office space, subterranean parking, a classic car display area and restoration center, an employee cafeteria, a dealer training center, an external business center with meeting space, and the Experience Center, which will include not only the aforementioned test track, but also a driving simulator room, a restaurant and café, a Porsche Design Drivers Selection retail shop, and a human performance center where guests can have their sport-specific fitness profile assessed.
Efficiency is everywhere. On the test track, sprinklers that create wet-driving conditions utilize recycled and reused water. Green roof elements assist with indoor cooling. And highly effective soundproofing promises to keep the din of automobiles and airplanes outside. Even the building’s orientation is strategic; while east-west exposures are largely closed off to eliminate glare, north-south curtain walls feature glazed glass that maximizes natural light but minimizes solar heat gain.
“Daylighting is proven to contribute significantly to occupant satisfaction and productivity,” says Draper, who adds that another example of efficiency is the building’s HVAC systems. “The building’s air-handling units provide refrigerant-based cooling, but whereas a typical building might cool the refrigeration cycle with air, this project is actually using water thanks to a cooling tower with variable speed fans. This helps improve efficiency, as water is a better medium for heat transfer. The air handlers also utilize simple but effective temperature and pressure reset strategies that improve energy performance.” The facility also features CO2 sensors in densely occupied spaces, which helps reduce unneeded air ventilation.
The company hopes that the building will achieve LEED Silver certification. Its long-term legacy, however, won’t be its LEED scorecard, but rather its embodiment of the marriage between sport and sustainability. “A very important component of a high-performance, sustainable building is longevity,” Draper says. “Achieving this requires alignment of the owner’s project goals with the final product. Porsche and all of its partners on this project understand this concept and have engaged in a thorough review of all of their sustainability options. And what does Porsche as a brand represent if not longevity and high performance?”