Monday, June 20, 1994 Portland, Oregon VOL. 187, NO. 3C

Communication key to US West project
by Patti Mertz

The design challenge: Renovate a 1964 computer enter owned by US West to house its technology-driven marketing and sales team to whom image and aesthetics must ring as true as the dial tone on a telephone.

And, to go the extra distance, the renovation team had the added challenge of a fast-track project that had to be completed in phases to accommodate the client's moving schedule.

With only 12 weeks to complete the first phase — design and construction drawings, and 16 weeks for construction — Gazely Plowman Atkinson Architects and Colamette Construction had their work cut out for them.

Special design elements create "Class A" public spaces
"The client was relocated from a relatively new 'Class A' downtown office, so they were concerned about achieving the same quality of interior design and finish work," explained project principal Steven Plowman. "We successfully achieved their goal by focusing our design dollars in select areas, and maintaining the use of high-quality materials," he said.

As they enter the building through the new glass vestibule, customers are greeted by a formal marble-tiled lobby and new reception area. The first-floor spaces and existing cafeteria underwent an extensive renovation, resulting in their conversion into a televideo conference center, training rooms and new product demonstration areas. As a unique feature in the new sales area, the telephone systems demonstration room is equipped with a special glass enclosed viewing area that displays the complex computer that allows you to see how calls are processed.

The need for flexibility
US West's programming requirements included a conference room that could hold as many as 100 persons for annual meetings. However, they did not have enough space within the existing building to dedicate a room for this single function. Since the majority of conferences typically involved only 15 to 30 participants, the architect incorporated the use of folding panels within the design to partition the room. This flexibility resulted in a versatile and cost-effective conference room that was equally suited for a small, informal sales presentation or a large, regional meeting with hundreds of employees.
US West's new presentation room has the flexibility to handle 15 to 100 people, and includes an interactive televideo conference center and ceiling-loaded projection system for sales and employee training.

Optimum use of fiber optics
As representatives of US West and the design team met with the experts at the PGE Energy Resource Center to evaluate lighting options, they were introduced to a fiber optic light. Since fiber optics is a communications link technology, it was the ideal element to incorporate into the design of a telecommunications corporation. This high-tech, yet whimsical design element is a multi-color band that wraps around the ceiling soffit and gives the illusion of lighting a pathway throughout the public areas.

"As a contractor with a lot of renovation experience, we always enjoy the transformation a space takes as the interior finishes are completed," said Colamette Project Manager Bill Ellis. "Since we had worked with US West on previous projects, we understood their construction policies and procedures, and could focus our energy and resources on meeting their schedule."

Adding light without adding windows
This office building renovation was similar to many in that the occupants in the open office spaces wanted a window view or at least a generous portion of natural lighting. Unfortunately, the Fourth Avenue Building had fairly small windows, four feet by six feet, and no budget for adding larger windows, thereby increasing the building's fenestration. Additionally, the ceilings, which were only nine feet high, only compounded the problem. The project team again consulted the PGE Energy Resource center and came away with a successful option for direct lighting. The overall solution was to place the private offices in the center of the work floor incorporating a significant use of relights, and place the open office partitions against the perimeter, allowing light to float over the workstations. Added visual interest was achieved around the open office space with wall sconces.

"Completing all the interior remodel work for phase one in order to have an office for employees when their current lease expired was a communications challenge. Colamette Construction provided smooth and constant communication to both the owner and us to assure the project's completion on time," Plowman said.

New exterior brings building into the '9Os
When the employees moved in, the renovation team moved outside to replace the existing windows with new energy efficient models and re-skin the building with insulated metal panels. The original building, constructed in 1964, was later expanded with a different exterior material used on the addition. Thanks to the new skin, the building's appearance now has a continuity and harmonious design that gives cues to the high-tech nature of the telecommunications business. Through the use of insulated spandrel glass on the exterior, the renovation team was able to create the appearance of a larger window design, making the building much more pedestrian-oriented and street friendly. As an added design feature, the exterior materials and colors were also used in the lobby and elevator cabs as a unifying element between the building's outside and inside.

"Although the exterior work was fairly simple, we were undertaking this work while employees were inside trying to service customers. The construction noise level was high, and as a result, we worked daily with the building users to keep them updated on our schedule," added Ellis. "As with all of our renovation work, minimizing disruption to current building occupants is one of our top priorities."

Final phase replaces cafeteria and upgrades the service area
The issue of where to relocate the cafeteria, which serves large numbers of employees from the services and computer centers, was key. An on-grade space was chosen, which allowed employees to easily enter the food service area as well as exit outside into an outdoor landscaped courtyard to enjoy the fresh air and lunchtime relaxation. Once again, the fiber optics design detail and similar color scheme was incorporated into this common area space.

As part of the final phase, the US West Service Center, which handles hundreds of customer calls per day, received a much deserved face lift with new carpet, paint and upgraded lighting systems. Final renovations also included the relocation of the security center to a more advantageous area, and minor alterations in the circulation paths to further insure the security of new product development.

For this extensive renovation, US West participated in the PGE Power Smart Energy Conservation Program. By using a new HVAC Economizer system and new, energy efficient lighting, US West received a significant energy rebate. As with all renovations, this building also received a full ADA (American with Disabilities Act) upgrade, and fire and life safety updates in keeping with code requirements.

Scott Hill, US West's project manager for design and construction, said he attributed the project's success to Gazely Plowman's and Colamette's ability to involve the employees. Hill and other key US West employees coordinated the three phases of the 107,000-square-foot renovation.

He added that "the renovation team gave us many opportunities to give them input on our needs and how we wanted to use this building, so we achieved our goal of a project that placed a top priority on our customers' needs. We are thrilled with the transformation of the space, and it has become a model for other US West offices in our region."



Patti Mertz is a marketing consultant serving Portland-area architecture, engineering and construction clients.

Commercial Renovation Magazine, June 1994


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