It’s fitting that a glass “waterfall” cascades down the 10-story atrium of EF Education First’s North American headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So much about the space is fluid, thanks to the open plan design. The flexible workspaces were designed to boost collaboration among the nearly 1,000 employees—and impress potential talent, according to Mark Allen, principal of Boston-based Wilson Architects, the architect of record on the project.
The 300,000-square-foot building, located within the NorthPoint development along the Charles River, was completed in October 2014. In addition to office and conference spaces, a 200-person auditorium, private dining, restaurant, and salon comprise the headquarters for the international educational organization, which has more than 500 schools and offices in 50 countries.
Allen explains that the flexible design, which is complemented by more than 100 meeting rooms of various sizes and social gathering areas throughout the office, “enhances team-based work and is a tremendous draw for talent.”
Location Cambridge, MA
Client EF Education First
Program North American headquarters for 985 employees
Size 300,000 ft2
Certification LEED Silver equivalent; Stretch Energy Code
Cost $125 million
Architect of Record Wilson Architects
Design Architect Wingårdh Arkitektkontor AB
Interior Design EF London Lighting Design Sladen Feinstein Integrated Lighting
Contractor Skanska USA Engineer AKF Group
Landscape Architect Zen Associates
Acoustic Consulting Acentech
Development Advisor Redgate
Flooring Tate Access Floor Acoustic Ceiling Treatment International Cellulose Corporation
Talent is also drawn to EF Education First’s commitment to sustainability. Through raised floor air distribution, acoustic ceiling insulation, and daylight tuning, the facility reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 38% and overall energy usage by 34%. In addition, the headquarters feature a bicycle room, showers, and an electric car charging station. The stormwater management system, made up of rain gardens, subsurface water retention, and recycled water for toilets and irrigation, treats or diverts 90% of the average annual rainfall.
The project, which was designed to meet the LEED Silver certifiable standard, is one of the first in Cambridge to be built under the new Stretch Energy Code, which requires greater energy reduction than the state code. Project manager Breana Werner says the facility is perfectly attuned to the organization’s green philosophy.
“EF Education First has a longtime commitment to energy reduction goals—it is embedded in their culture and how they operate their buildings,” she says. “They were interested in an environment that would be sustainably designed and provide comfort to employees, with high-quality lighting and individual thermal controls.”
Allen explains that the 16-inch raised flooring, which provides heating and cooling, forms the backbone of the flexible arrangements. Workers can individually control the temperature in their area through the HVAC outlets, which are mounted directly into low-VOC carpet and integral hardwood flooring, made from 90% timber reclaimed waste.
“This system works particularly well in densely planned environments, where cooling is provided, low and heat generation is drawn off in return air points at the ceiling,” Allen says, adding that it’s highly efficient.
The high ceilings’ steel beams were treated with a K-13 spray application, which reflects the natural light and helps control the acoustics. Thanks to the abundance of sunlight coming through the low-e argon-filled glass windows, the project team was able to reduce the lighting density to less than 0.7 watts-per-square-foot. A perimeter daylight sensor system further reduces the need to rely on the LED lights, leading to additional energy savings.
Throughout the space, the view of the Charles River and the Boston skyline is always emphasized.
“We used glass walls on the interior to keep your eye looking through the space and out toward the view,” Allen says, adding that the team worked to ensure that the interior stayed clutter-free by building designated spaces for everything. “Without private offices, there is a greater need to control clutter. The workplace is a shared community space, and we had to take advantage of every square foot possible elsewhere for coats, lunches, copy machines, and storage—the material that would quickly bog down the workplace if not planned for behind closed doors.”
For Werner, the drama of the 10-story atrium is the highlight of the gleaming new facility. “The changing sun angles create a play of shadows from the structure on the largely white atrium walls,” she says. “These unrestrained moments of change happen in the more playful common spaces.”
Adds Allen, “EF Education First is a dynamic organization, and they challenged the design team to keep the workplace flexible, connected, and engaging. We collaborated with Wingårdh and EF London interior designers on concepts that reflect the EF culture; it was a fantastic exchange of ideas and led to innovations in the look, feel, and performance of the spaces.”