San Jose Project is Green to the Core

Headquarters for Aspect Communications Based on ‘People Friendly’ Design

With many earth friendly components, ample access to fresh air and natural light, and raised flooring that allows individual space control of work climates, Aspect Communications’ new headquarters undoubtedly ranks as the most ‘green’ structure ever constructed in San Jose. The ultimate goal, however, is more fundamental: to provide a comfortable, inviting and “people friendly” environment for the approximately 300 employees housed inside. Designed in collaboration between William McDonough + Partners and Form4 Architects, the new three-story 110,000-sq.-ft., two-building facility that DPR constructed on Ridder Park Drive reflects Aspect’s commitment to its workers’ comfort and, in turn, their productivity and longevity with the company.

Although the building’s design carried an approximately 15 percent premium over a more conventional approach, Aspect chose it based on ongoing research conducted by University of California Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment, which found that people, who work in green buildings with access to fresh air, natural light and connection to the outdoors, tend to be more productive, call in sick less and stay with a company longer.

For Aspect, creating a healthy and environmentally sensitive building not only allows it to be a good corporate citizen and employer but also gives the company an edge for recruiting and retaining employees. The building’s numerous amenities include a fitness center, high-end “Briefing Center” with state-of-the-art audio/visual components, full-service cafeteria and a travel agency, among other features.

Promoting Energy Efficiency

One major unique feature is the use of raised access flooring, which promotes both energy efficiency and indoor air quality. The building incorporates convective airflows, which means that cool air is provided low to the breathing zone. Warm air generated by people and equipment is allowed to rise in the space, carrying away indoor air contaminants on the convective currents and improving indoor air quality.

In addition, the displacement ventilation system air delivery temperature is higher than under conventional ceiling supply systems, because air is delivered to temper just the lower six ft. of the space instead of the entire volume of space. As a result, mechanical equipment has been downsized. The system is expected to generate significant energy savings for Aspect in the long term.

While the raised floor design has been permitted in data centers, it has not previously been used in other types of commercial buildings in the area prior to this project. One of DPR’s key challenges was to convince the local building department to change the code in order to accommodate that feature. “We had to persuade the board of code writers to alter the mechanical code, which basically took a lot of persistence,” comments DPR’s Mike Humphrey.

Utilizing Recyclable Materials

The building incorporates numerous earth friendly materials, selected for their durability, low-maintenance and non-toxicity. All the wood comes from certified, sustainable sources, including forests where trees are harvested and replanted instead of clear-cut and abandoned, and low-VOC paint and sealants are used throughout. Very little of the building’s steel is galvanized, both to avoid the galvanizing process itself that produces toxic gases and to ensure that as much metal as possible is ultimately recyclable. The design also avoids the use of fiberglass in concrete, an additive that helps eliminate surface cracking but reduces its ability to be recycled. In addition, the building features Powerblock flooring, a resilient floor covering of recycled carpet, and TerraGreen ceramic tile and pavers made from recycled masonry and tile products.

The structural steel was also designed to remain exposed. Form4’s lead architect Robert Giannini explained that “by organizing the design to allow one strategically placed area separation wall, the building maintains a code rating that avoids the need for fireproofing - saving significant cost, eliminating the use of toxic fireproofing materials and realizing the aesthetic Aspect desired.”

Creating two separate structures, rather than one, which surround a large courtyard achieves Aspect’s goal of connecting people to the outdoors. Serving as the “heart” of the project, the courtyard is extensively landscaped and incorporates two major water features and gathering areas that are secluded using largely California native plants and grasses. Aspect was also very sentimental when it came to some of the original trees on-site, which were boxed, saved and then re-planted.

Narrow floor plates - 65 ft. window to window - enhance the sense of connection to the outdoors and bring natural light inside. The third floor has high ceilings and clerestory windows for views of the sky, and operable windows throughout allow fresh air to circulate, reinforcing people’s physical and psychological connection to the outdoors. A two-story, open bridge also links the southern ends of the two wings, and stairs are located at the buildings’ corners. Conference rooms and breakout spaces are also strategically positioned to encourage social interaction.

Delivering the facility on schedule in July, Humphrey says the project has been a valuable and positive experience as DPR continues to develop an edge in the green building market.

“It has allowed us to get thoroughly educated on the whole green philosophy, and in turn we’ve educated our subs as well,” he says. “There have been several times where we’ve asked our subs, how can we build this project faster, better and more economically - without hindering the green process. This is another step in our goal to be the industry leader in building green projects.”