When your mission
includes the protection of bald eagles, gray wolves and whole ecosystems,
the last thing you want to be worrying about is an inefficient office
building that doesnt meet your functional needs and wastes
precious dollars. Such was the impetus behind the National Wildlife
Federations (NWF) four-year process to plan a new headquarters
buildingone that not only met its needs and desires, but also
represented what it is and what it believes in. Since moving into
the new facility in Reston, VA, last year, the overwhelming consensus
among all involved is that NWF not only achieved, but surpassed,
This is about more than building a great new home, explains
NWFs president and CEO Mark Van Putten. Its meant
to send a message about what the National Wildlife Federation stands
for, and to provide a model of what any organization can achieve
if it builds with the health of the environment in mind and a lot
of common sense. NWF began by deciding not to spend an inordinate
amount of money building a green Taj Mahal that wouldnt be
able to be duplicated. Instead it opted to create a building with
features that others could emulate and thus serve as a model. Staff
members refer to their facility as state-of-the-shelf,
meaning that the technologies used are innovative, yet readily available
Van Putten and others in the organization credit their success to
the thoughtfulness with which they approached the process of developing
their goals, by involving focus groups, board members and staff
and providing a public comment period following each presentation
by the design team to give everyone time to react. This extremely
inclusive process has evolved into a strong sense of pride and ownership.
They credit the architectural firm of William McDonough + Partners
with helping to clarify their vision, especially in the selection
of their site and design team.
The building, although located inside a suburban office park, is
situated on a previously undeveloped piece of land that backs up
to a 130-acre conservation area within the 475-acre wooded Lake
Fairfax Park. It is placed on the land in an unusual way. Typically,
suburban office buildings sit in the middle of their property with
parking all around. However, because this site abuts a county park,
the architects placed the building as tight to the northern boundary
as possible, thereby borrowing its view. NWF spent a full year carefully
documenting the nature of the land before construction began. As
a result of this meticulous survey of the trees, the building was
re-sited several times in order to save as many of them as possible.
Additionally, NWF studied the resident wildlife, including a year-long
bird count, in order to measure the impact on the site and to insure
its restoration goal of making the site more productive for the
wildlife after construction than it was before. It also researched
a 100-year historical analysis of the property in order to learn
what it had been as far back as land records went in order to get
a sense of its history. Such careful planning has paid off. Pairs
of binoculars can be found on the window ledges throughout the office
spaces attesting to the variety of critters inhabiting the surrounding
areas; a notebook is filling rapidly as the staff documents the
birds, butterflies, mammals and reptiles they spot.
Great care was also
given in the choice of Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK) as the
project architect. Impressed with their responsiveness, interdisciplinary
capabilities and experience with both sustainability and budget-sensitive
projects, the client couldnt be happier with its selection.
Principal Bill Hellmuth also speaks glowingly about NWF, despite
the seemingly conflicting requirements imposed upon the HOK team
to design a sustainable building within a very modest budget.
The challenge here was an interesting one because NWF had
several agendas going at the same time, Hellmuth remembers.
One was clearly this sustainable agenda; however, equally
clear was that they wanted the project to come in at $55-per-square-foot,
first cost. Most buildings of this sort are typically $65-per-square-foot
or more, so this presented quite a challenge. They are a fiscally
conservative organization and believe that the building should not
be about their glorification, but rather should reflect their mission.
What was incredibly positive, though, is that they came to it with
a very open mind about the process.
Both partiesthe client and the architectheap great praise
on their chosen course of action. HOK maintained a dialogue with
the staff throughout, often presenting various options and giving
everyone time to sort things out before weighing in with opinions.
Conscious of the fact that they had to design with simplicity, a
long, skinny footprint was deliberately created, glazed on the north
and south faces, with solid ends east and west. Happily, the best
view of the wooded park was to the north and the architects knew
they could deal with direct sunlight issues on the southern exposure
in many different ways. Their first solution, a series of horizontal
wooden slats, proved unsatisfactory and eventually evolved into
a metal trellis, which, in addition to providing summer shade and
admitting winter light, provides a vertical habitat for birds and
butterflies. Native deciduous vines will be planted along the bottom
that will eventually wind their way up to the top. This green
screen afforded the architects one way of combining NWFs
goals with its desire to do something architecturally interesting,
habitat friendly, sustainable and in keeping with the budget.
The buildings entrance, always a key element of the architectural
solution, provided another. The design team felt it was important
not to level the land, but rather work within its natural terrain.
This decision led to the inclusion of a wildlife pond with a waterfall
that will be a living aquatic habitat that visitors will cross via
a bridge. The bridges concrete surface is imprinted with the
actual paw prints of Ranger Rick, letting all who enter
know that this is a special place where all critters are welcome!
Other landscape design features include two bioretention ponds that
will naturally cleanse the runoff from the roof and parking lots
before it returns to the nearby streams. Out back there are demonstration
areas for NWFs Backyard Wildlife Habitat program. Designed
to train others to become wildlife stewards, the habitat fulfills
some of the organizations primary missions: education and
action to keep the wild alive.
The building itself
is simple, yet each design feature is calculated to achieve certain
goals set by NWF. Hellmuth recalls how, at the beginning, the client
pictured a different building, one much less innovative in its plan
and use of materials.
I dont believe they imagined a building with trellises,
profile panels or split face block, but we stretched the limits
in terms of appropriate materials, primarily because of budget considerations,
he says. If they had had a larger budget, we might have been
For example, NWF initially wanted operable windows, but they proved
to be too expensive. Instead, breakout balconies were placed throughout
and equipped with data and electrical connections to enable workers
to take their laptops outside. These also provide a great place
to read or hold meetingsor for simply stepping out to hear
a bird sing. A visit on a beautiful spring day confirmed their understandable
popularity. In many other ways, the staff is encouraged to experience
the outdoors and to be reminded on a constant basis what their mission
is all about. For example, bikes are provided for employees to ride
the trails in the adjacent park on their lunch hours.
Bringing the outside in was easily accomplished once the building
footprint was set. The floor plan is extremely spacious and open
with light coming in from both sides. The large majority of the
Teknion work stations are within 25 feet of a window, providing
all with the healthful benefits of daylighting and connectivity
to nature, possible only because of the open floor plan.
Although the decision to abandon private offices was one of the
more difficult problems to be reckoned with during the design process,
there appears to be consensus that the open plan is working. Van
Putten feels that this arrangement fosters a more collaborative
environment, and hes been pleasantly surprised by how quickly
and positively all have adjusted to it. Once again, the process
is credited with eliminating much of the uncertainty originally
expressed by many members of the 150-person staff.
We spent more than a year planning for this and then made
a decision and didnt look back, Van Putten recalls.
Once we made the decision to go with open offices we designed
the entire facility around how to maximize the benefits and deal
with the disadvantages. For example, huddle rooms are strategically
placed throughout the work areas to provide private space.
The architects also aided the ease of communication by designing
in ample conference rooms; a large, light-filled communicating stairway;
refreshment centers; and the bathrooms and the balconies are all
within the knuckle of the building. Hellmuth explains how clustering
these function areas cause people to come to one central area repeatedly
throughout the day.
When things are dispersed, you cant achieve the same
kind of community feeling within a building. Organizationally, its
very important in terms of knowing that others are around and that
each staff member is part of a bigger whole than their own department.
Other benefits include fewer formal meetings, less e-mail and memos
and more face-to-face ad hoc communication. Van Putten personally
attests to greater interaction. His old office felt like a prison,
he remembers; he now thrives on more frequent and spontaneous contact
with his staff.
The interior finishing is simple and understated with many of the
materials chosen because they are practical, durable and ecologically
friendly. Rapidly renewable bamboo flooring was selected, as were
carpet tiles with little or no off-gassing and that required less
adhesives. Woods specified were grown in forests certified as sustainable,
and indirect, reflective lighting is provided by energy efficient
There are clues and
reminders, some subtle and some unabashed, throughout the building
of why its there. School buses pull up daily filled with local
students ready to take advantage of the built-in educational opportunities,
such as the Conservation Hall of Fame with portraits of past great
leaders: Teddy Roosevelt, Morris Udall and Henry David Thoreau to
name a few. Conference rooms carry the names of conservation heroes
like Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold, and the huddle rooms are named
for NWFs state and territorial affiliates. Cutouts of wolf
paw prints decorate the backs of the chairs in the cafeteria, and
wire art by a staff wildlife biologist is cleverly placed. NWF also
owns a premier collection of wildlife art that the building has
been designed to showcase.
Van Putten emphasizes that buildings should communicate, and he
feels certain that this one does, from its Distance Learning Center
to its interactive consoles and backyard habitat program. Theres
also an outdoor amphitheatre in the works and very visible solar
panels located near the entrance used to heat hot water for the
showers. The library, one of the most pleasant spaces in the building,
is considerably smaller than in NWFs previous buildinga
result of on-line research capabilities.
Both the architect and the client agree that they took a common
sense approach to sustainability. There were things that they wanted
to do, but could not. But they had an aggressive and thoughtful
process and came out of it with no regrets.
Dont be discouraged if you cant be 100 percent
green, Van Putten advises. Take five steps even if you
cant take 10and youll remind us all of where the
future should go.
Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc. (HOK)
3223 Grace St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
William McDonough + Partners
American Structural Engineers
Falls Church, VA
R.G. Vanderweil Engineers