Call of the Wild
Gensler creates a woody, eco-friendly research and development center for Nokia in Vancouver's hinterlands
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 5/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
It may seem odd for an international mobile-phone company to plunk itself down in the middle of an idyllic parkland. But when Nokia decided to build a research and development center near banks of the Fraser River in Burnaby, outside of Vancouver British Columbia, Gensler saw it as an opportunity to help the technology-driven company show its eco-sensitive side—indoors.
The fact that Gensler design principal Collin Burry originally hails from that area provided another level of insight into the project. "It was like coming home," Burry says. "Nokia is very respectful of local culture, and we were sensitive to that. Wherever possible, we used indigenous materials in their natural states."
Burry and project designer Yoko Ishihara combined high-tech with rustic elements throughout the new three-story, 92,000-square-foot facility.
As you enter the triple-height glazed lobby, under a glass canopy supported by a cedar lattice, it seems to mirror the outside. Latticework, fieldstone walls, and steel I beams from the exterior continue indoors.
A glass-enclosed bridge across the front connects second-floor work areas to an exit stairwell. Concrete floors incorporate embedded flagstones and reflecting pools. The L-shape reception desk marries a translucent glass partition with a steel and concrete base.
While the program called for offices, laboratories, and testing facilities, it also required warm common areas. "It rains a lot in Vancouver. And having a positive connection to the outdoors was important," Burry says.
Off the lobby on the ground level, a corridor lined in Douglas fir continues past conference rooms to the cafeteria, which opens onto its own concrete-paved patio.
A fireplace, along the west wall, provides the focus for a lounge encircled by a forest 'of 16 upright tree trunks. "These offer a bit of warmth during the Vancouver winters," Burry says.
Along with the region's natural resources, its indigenous crafts also provided inspiration. The composition of end-cut Douglas fir panels lining a portion of the main corridor recalls the local Haida tribes' sculptures. And on cafeteria banquettes' backs, the rust-colored button-upholstered felt echoes traditional Haida blankets.
Past the suite of conferences and cafeteria, the corridor arrives at a stairwell formed by a transparent skylit atrium with landings on the second and third floors. On either level, a lounge spans the atrium's length, offering café tables and chairs for intimate huddles. Designers created a natural tableau on each landing by embedding small fir boughs in backlit frosted glass panels. Pendant fixtures with small globe shades evoke raindrops.
Local references continue in work areas. Reminiscent of Haida baskets, woven-wood clads staggered partitions that define circulation paths to work areas.
To maximize natural light and reveal views of snow-capped 'mountains, Gensler allowed 5 feet between engineers' workstations and the building's glazing. Designers also sloped the ceilings upward to accommodate the full-height windows. Daylight penetrates deep into the work areas, as they avoided using dividers.
Even the gray-and-blue pattern carpet, randomly accented with red and yellow tiles, defers to the outdoors.
"Engineers are notorious for holing themselves up," Burry says. "But here, we've given them places to interact."