In the competitive orbit of the legal sector, Nixon Peabody is a name that is widely recognized and high-ranking. A Global 100 law firm, the brand mans offices around the world and operates a practice that has collected an enviable trove of awards and accolades. With a diverse team of prestigious legal talent, the specialized focuses of law that the firm practices are as vast as its geographic reach. Boasting a reputation of such domineering stature, it’s certain that the firm’s work hasn’t been honed by thinking in simple or modest terms but rather by commanding a forward-thinking cerebral appetite and a culture aspirational toward growth. For this reason, it is perhaps surprising then that the hunt for a new Washington, D.C. office was in part steered by a practical desire for a smaller workspace.
Shrinking physically does not necessarily mean the same conceptually, however. In fact, with Nixon Peabody’s case as an example, sometimes just the opposite is true. While sifting through real estate prospects, Nixon Peabody D.C. office managing partner Jeffrey Lesk understood that minimalism, if executed properly, could mean maximal efficiency. And while the strangulating effects of an uncertain economic climate demand many in the trade to think more tactically about real estate occupancies, investment in smart energy-saving building methodologies are doubly advantageous. The search wasn’t a harrowing one, as the team happened upon a space just a comfortable four blocks away. To ensure that all parties involved in the project were committed to the same environmental ideals, Lesk sowed the company’s sustainability principles into the contractual bond of the space.
“We negotiated what’s called a ‘green lease,’” Lesk says. “Essentially, it’s looking at all the components of a commercial lease, in this case from a tenant’s perspective, and negotiating each provision to accomplish not only the landlord’s, but also the tenant’s environmental goals.” The goals in question were as rigorous as they were pervasive. Some tasks were as complex and large-scale as separating Nixon Peabody’s occupied floors from the rest of the building’s electricity infrastructure—a peculiarity for Washington, D.C. law firms. This provoked the team to pursue other avenues that intersected evenly with sustainability and cost-benefit, aided by the Washington, D.C. office of the global firm, Perkins+Will.
One of the assets that best progressed the intertwined interests of cost and ecology was deceivingly inconspicuous. The automated shading via MechoSystems’ SolarTrac System was introduced to scale down energy consumption by automating shade usage. After an analysis of the adjacent buildings and solar position throughout the year, Perkins+Will determined that introducing the motorized SolarTrac system on the east and west facades of the new space (the south façade was shaded by an adjacent building) would minimize HVAC energy loads by reducing solar heat gain, while allowing occupants to take full advantage of exterior glazing. The SolarTrac system takes advantage of the democratized open floor plan layout, which includes all glass office fronts along both interior and exterior offices and allows daylight to penetrate deeply into the space. The SolarTrac system helps optimize the circadian benefits to occupants from exposure to natural light while eliminating the need for employees to wrestle over shade positioning, or suffer eyestrain and ergonomic discomfort from glare.
The SolarTrac control system is fed information from the radiometers on the roof and makes adjustments accordingly. “What it does is it pulls in weather information from the radiometers on the roof,” explains Dana Strickland, MechoSystems manager of business development. “These radiometers are part of the control system that can calculate from the glazing how much heat or light is hitting the glass at any given time.” The shading then either lifts or drops to a certain height based on these calculations, relative to end user preferences. And for greater efficiency and comfort, the program can override the system during cloudy periods and under conditions where the glare is so strong from sun bouncing off surrounding buildings that the shades need to be lowered.
The gains of newly immersive outside views and washes of natural daylight endowed by the high level of transparency, it would be thought, are afforded only when the shades are raised. However, the specialized material tempers the circadian interference imposed by traditional weighty curtains. “You’re not creating a wall like you are with drapery, and you’re not creating a wall like you are with closed venetian blinds,” explains Bill Maiman, marketing manager at MechoSystems. “Instead, you have perforations through the fabric, but yet the openness is selected to match the glazing, the elevation, and the architectural arrangement of the building.” MechoSystems offers a range of perforated shade cloth options with different degrees of openness and materiality. Perkins+Will specified the EcoVeil Series with PVC-free composition and Cradle to Cradle Product Certification to comply with the project’s material health goals. As Perkins+Will fine-tailored their design to Nixon Peabody’s environmental ambitions, MechoSystems provided a customized system that conformed to the architectural design and sustainability goals of the project. In effect, the sophisticated symbiosis Nixon Peabody’s D.C. office sought to inspire through the space was tested through the very process of creating it.
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