To tell the story of New York’s HLW International is to tell the story of countless others. Founded in 1885, the global architecture firm has been partnering with leading brands and business people for more than 125 years, transforming those brands’ missions into physical design. HLW is a practice whose design ethos elevates sustainable ideals into tangible spaces, and as sustainability has evolved, so has HLW, each project’s green vision intricately connecting with the brand ambassadors and HLW’s war chest of experts.
The company’s client list speaks for itself: Google, ESPN, Red Bull—these are big brands doing big work. What ties their workspaces together is HLW’s ability to express a brand to the workforce and clients. “Limitations are the starting point for creativity,” says Susan Kaplan, HLW’s director of specifications and sustainability. HLW is an office that includes more than architects; the practice encompasses engineering, landscape architecture, planning, interior design, and workplace strategy, which allow the integration of sustainability and brand identity into every facet of a project. Because the HLW model is based on collaboration and partnerships inside and outside the firm, it is able to seamlessly express a brand’s own sustainability mission.
Yet the ability to tie a client’s space to the greater, global community includes more than the communication and expression of its brand. With the evolution of the sustainability movement has come an expansion of the term’s definition. For HLW, water and energy challenges are elemental, and the firm also concentrates on wellness-fostering components such as active design and the selection of nontoxic materials to ensure high indoor air quality. To explore its design process in action, we spent time in new workspaces for Panasonic, Weight Watchters International, and Agensys, Inc. to understand the intersection of brand communication and sustainability in the 21st century.
PANASONIC’S PLATINUM OFFICE
To bring to life the interior design for Panasonic’s 280,000-square-foot North American headquarters in Newark, New Jersey—which is targeting LEED-CI Platinum certification—HLW’s strategists performed what they call the “discovery process.”
“It’s an interactive process that delves into the qualitative as well as the quantitative components of a client’s vision and establishes a project’s guiding principles,” says Kim Sacramone, the design principal and director of interior architecture at HLW. “That’s what sets us apart.” While other firms often employ a separate strategic planning group, HLW’s discovery services are fundamentally linked to its design process.
Panasonic’s lofty goal of LEED Platinum guided the discovery process and was integrated into the interior design from the outset. “We try to first understand the client’s definition of sustainability; it’s about creating a space around what the company wants to be,” Kaplan says. Panasonic, already a leader in sustainability in its own right as a manufacturer of photovoltaic solar panels and the daylight-harvesting Nexlight lighting control system, sought to communicate its brand by integrating its products from top to bottom, making its offices a veritable showcase of company expertise. To encourage awareness for employees and visitors alike, HLW placed signage detailing Panasonic’s sustainability plans throughout the building alongside its products.
That awareness extended into concerns about employee wellness, and Panasonic hired consultants at Humanscale to bring ergonomic chairs, workstations, and monitor arms to the office and held ergonomics workshops. And while 43 percent of the project is enclosed, 92 percent of the building interior has open space and outdoor views, resulting in expansive natural lighting. So far, the building has achieved a lighting-power-density (LPD) reduction of more than 40 percent and a more than 35-percent reduction in water consumption.
In moving its offices in to Newark, Panasonic also actively moved away from a car-centric, suburban corporate campus to a transit-oriented, urban one. To ensure that the benefits of the move were clear, numerous features were introduced such as interconnected stairs that brought movement to the space and highlighted the ideals that are guiding Panasonic.
AN ACTIVE ENVIRONMENT
“Active design” elements, such as the stairs, are consistent components of HLW’s approach, but no project exemplifies this aspect of its sustainability philosophy better than the firm’s recent work in the New York City headquarters of Weight Watchers, designed with LEED certification in mind. Much like Panasonic, HLW’s strategists and designers immersed themselves in the client’s brand until they felt they truly understood the Weight Watchers vision. Here, three floors of interconnecting stairs are crucial in expressing this mission; instead of connecting the floors vertically, HLW separated the stairs, creating an active environment that encourages employees and visitors to walk across the floor to get to the next set of steps.
“Walking through the space, you see the Weight Watchers vision, but you also live it,” Kaplan says. “It’s not passive.” The project was centered on the principles of active design, which is exactly what Weight Watchers hopes to represent: a culture of motion and doing. In addition to the stairs, hallways are designed to be impromptu meeting spaces to further encourage walking throughout the building. To tie in even more overtly with the Weight Watchers approach, the office includes a walking path that features health and wellness tips along the way.
Because this project merges two locations, an open floor plan was used to amplify collaboration across functional areas and lines of business, in turn lending itself to the sustainable initiatives already introduced. HLW designed a 5,000-square-foot rooftop terrace for multiple uses and to create yet another area where employees would want to walk. Subtle choices play into the design, like positioning vending machines filled with healthy options in a sectioned-off area of the kitchen with complimentary fresh fruit and water stations lining the path to the machines. HLW and Weight Watchers decided to place the office’s large café, which also holds the company’s largest communal space, in the light-flooded area companies usually reserve for executive offices.
Here, the “heart” of the space ties together food and community, two important elements of the Weight Watchers brand.
AN INVITATION FROM AGENSYS
Some projects pose direct challenges in energy and water consumption. For HLW’s work on cancer research company Agensys’s new facility in Santa Monica, California, multiple strategies were necessary to create a sustainable community with lab buildings that could meet LEED-NC Silver benchmarks. Additionally, while Panasonic and Weight Watchers are household names, translating a relatively obscure brand like Agensys meant communicating what the project could do for the local community. The effort consolidated four Agensys sites into a new campus, composed of an adapted steel Butler building and two new structures housing the research, laboratory, office, and manufacturing functions.
HLW’s Los Angeles office collaborated with CRB, a multidisciplinary practice with expertise in engineering for laboratory projects. CRB supported HLW in the translation of the progressive Agensys vision into a physical space. “HLW had a great team of architects who worked very collaboratively with CRB in a BIM and 3-D environment,” says Doug Conrath, a principal at CRB and its western regional leader. “Agensys had great leadership who were dedicated to the project and whose vision helped the team deliver an impressive landmark for Agensys and the surrounding community.”
What the team created was a system of stacked laboratories that takes advantage of California’s vast amount of sunlight. HLW was tasked with creating a corporate campus that challenges the common belief that biotech campuses have to be highly private. It opted for a layout that blurs the lines between public and private space. The community can access the campus through a public sculpture garden and walking paths. HLW removed the existing building’s outer skin, creating the sheltered garden and a new connection to the Bergamont Station, a well-known art complex.
This openness also reflects an effort to get Agensys employees out of the lab and outdoors. Utilizing the three-story stairs, purposefully slow elevators, and a public café in a separate building, HLW hopes to encourage staff and public alike to interact and forge lasting relationships. Located adjacent to a future light-rail stop, the building has been under-parked by about half its capacity and holds ample bike parking and accompanying showers in order to encourage alternative modes of transportation.
“Giving Agensys a place to call home that has such a positive impact on the community has really helped establish the company’s identity in Santa Monica,” says Stephanie Baca, the design director for interiors at HLW’s Los Angeles office. “The whole project—labs and offices—was designed to be flexible so expansion could be as sustainable as possible.”
HLW’s building projects may showcase the architects’ assured and empathic touch, but visitors to the offices of Panasonic, Weight Watchers, or Agensys, will rarely if ever see this. They will instead see only the vision of that particular company. Because for HLW, it’s not about HLW, and this has made all the difference.