Green-Lighting Green Design
Good looks and eco-sensitivity merge at AC Martin's Caltrans headquarters in Marysville
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
It was a toss-up. Winning the design-build competition for the California Department of Transportation District 3 headquarters in Marysville, David Martin of AC Martin Partners wasn't quite sure which was tighter, the state's $65.7 million budget or a program shoehorning more than 700 people into 208,000 square feet. The architect was also going to be following in some pretty big footsteps. Mention Caltrans, and word association inevitably conjures up the Morphosis-designed District 7 counterpart in downtown Los Angeles. Was Martin looking to compete with that perforated aluminum skin and neon lighting installation?
Not at all. The Marysville Caltrans, he comments, is a "real office building." It's all about interiors, sustainable ones at that. Officially called the Leo J. Trombatore State Office Building, named after a Caltrans director from the 1980's, it's designed to be 27 percent more energy-efficient than code requires—as well as promoting efficiency among members of the workforce, who used to be spread out in 1930's bungalows all around this Central Valley town 40 miles north of Sacramento.
Opting to go the prefab route helped keep the budget at $286 per square foot. But using locally precast concrete for the exterior slats, flooring, and interior structural panels did more than just cut costs. The solution also promised seismic benefits and a gutsy rawness, with exposed ductwork and cabeling and the built-in character of 14½-foot floor-to-floor dimensions. "We told the client this wouldn't be the most finished building in the world," Martin says. "I thought it should be like a studio, since many of the employees are landscape architects and graphic and transportation designers."
The five-story structure's office areas, 80 percent of them open, are concentrated around an atrium rising from the second level. "All we had to do was leave out a few pieces from our industrialized kit of parts to get that 'canyon,'" Martin explains. He draws his metaphor from Marysville's location near the Sierra Nevadas. "The Sacramento Valley developed because of mountain resources such as lumber and mining. So the design has a connection," he says. That meant using local Douglas fir for elements such as the atrium's big gesture, a freestanding slat-walled conference room angling upward 25 feet. Two walls are parallel; two cant inward. From inside, it's a bit dizzying.
Also part of the geography metaphor, the entry hall's fountain was built out of an indigenous boulder and a Cor-Ten steel spout. Martin came even closer to home—his own family's, that is—with a reception desk made of wood from a tree struck by lightning on the ranch that he owns with his cousin Christopher Martin, the firm's CEO, just outside Yosemite National Park. Armed with chain saws, the Martins cut down the tree themselves, gave it to Caltrans, and came up with a purposely rough-hewn end product. Carpet in the adjacent "canyon" atrium is boldly colored squares patterned as if an aerial photo of the Sacramento Valley had been enlarged to the point of pixelation.
Local color of a distinctly different sort: The bare-bones workstations are products of the California prison system. They're positioned perpendicular to windows, with partitions only 42 inches high to let daylight penetrate the core. Because the 8-foot modules are densely packed, way-finding is critical. A palette of 12 natural colors—evoking seasons, landscape, water, sky—distinguish each floor as well as circulation paths to elevators and restrooms.
Sunshine, always key in the sustainability equation, is so plentiful in the Central Valley that a skylight over office areas was completely out of the question. "It would fry the people below," Martin quips, and that's no hyperbole. The temperature hit a steamy 110 degrees Fahrenheit during our visit. Instead, installed above a south-facing clerestory, movable plastic louvers harvest daylight and bounce it off the atrium's vaulted ceiling, painted pale yellow-orange to increase warmth. Furthermore, the parabolic forms keep the light level in the atrium consistent throughout the day.
Eco-consciousness governed space planning, too. The most desirable locations are along the long north and south sides of the building, and it's here that most of the workforce is. Rather than interspersing closed offices every few feet, per Caltrans standards, Martin chose to group the offices along the shorter east and west sides. Sustainable strategies include not only workstation proximity to daylight but also occupancy sensors and high-performance glass, which reduces heat gain and loss. Sounds like no bumps in the road ahead for Caltrans to snag LEED Silver.
Photography by Art Gray.
Carey Mcleod (Project Director); David Freedman (Project Manager); Jamie Myer (Associate Designer); George Van Gilluwe (Director Of Architectural Production): AC Martin Partners. Maggie Hwang; Clara Igonda: Interior Design Consultants. SWA: Landscaping Consultant. Selbert Perkins Design Collaborative: Graphics Consultant. Veneklasen Associates: Acoustical, Audiovisual Consultant. Lerch Bates: Elevator Consultant. Englekirk & Sabol Consulting Structural Engineers: Structural Engineer. Glumac International: Mechanical, Electrical Engineer. MHM: Civil Engineer. Ashland Glass & Millwork: Woodwork. Viking Steel: Steelwork. Turner Construction Company: General Contractor.
From Front American Fiber Cement Corporation: Paneling (Entry). Shaw Contract Group: Carpet Tile (Atrium, Reception). California Prison Industry Authority: Workstations (Atrium), Chairs (Reception). Volmar Products: Custom Signage (Exterior). Falling H20: Custom Fountain (Entry). Solnhofen Natural Stone: Flooring. Cooper Industries: Linear Fixtures (Office Areas). Light Corporation: Task Lamps. Architectural Energy Corporation: Louvers (Atrium). LB Furniture: Chairs (Café). Delray Lighting: Pendant Fixtures. Hampstead Lighting: Pendant Fixture (Conference Room). Throughout Clark Pacific: Precast Concrete.