Forest for the Trees: Perkins+Will Brings Biophilic Design to an Atlanta Office
The facade of flooring company Interface's new HQ doesn't just symbolize biophilia: It mimics the dappled light created by a forest canopy.
One of Atlanta’s many nicknames is the “City in the Forest,” on account of its sprawling tree canopy—some estimates say the city is 50% covered. In the same vein, the new Atlanta headquarters of global flooring manufacturer Interface may very well deserve the moniker “Forest in the City,” due to its unique facade and its biophilic design.
The new headquarters, designed by the Atlanta office of Perkins+Will, was prompted by Interface’s need to centralize its Georgia workforce from three locations to one. The company selected a circa-1960s office building and embarked with Perkins+Will to create a biophilic workplace environment, i.e. one that would mimic the natural world to benefit human health and productivity. Biophilic design, says Perkins+Will design principal Bruce McEvoy, “identifies with us at our core. It’s not something that is generational or temporary,” he says. “I think the same things that identify with us through biophilia right now will be just as relevant 25 years from now, 50 years from now.”
While biophilic design can include a range of parameters (it runs the gamut from circadian lighting to healthy materials), in the case of Interface’s headquarters, its biophilia begins with the massive image of a forest overlaid on the structure’s north and east faces. The bright white, winter-esque landscape—created based on an image from photographer Bruce Quist—was created with a recycled polyester laminate. “In the trees—in the forest—we wanted you to see the employees of Interface,” says McEvoy. “We didn’t see Interface in a forest; we see Interface as the forest.” However, the facade’s design isn’t just symbolic: Perkins+Will carefully arranged the illustration to cast gentle shadows into the office—shadows that emulate the dappled light of a tree canopy. “From the outside, you get a high-contrast image of the trees and the forest,” says McEvoy. “From the inside, that kind of goes away … It becomes highly transparent from the inside.”
As an open office, the HQ offers a wide variety of workplace options: As its sunny edges, the interior is bright, dynamic, and open. Moving towards the deeper recesses, “you get into the darkest, quietest, most secluded spaces,” says McEvoy. Naturally, the office doubles as an Interface showroom, with the range of workplace configurations helping display the company’s many offerings. In some cases, the brand’s carpet tiles make creative and unexpected appearances, such as with the building’s main staircase, which features rainbow stacks of tiles-turned-cushions. Elsewhere throughout the facility, smatterings of prototypes decorate the flexible floor plan.
The office interior also features an abundance of real foliage, which is supplemented by a sedum roof and outdoor terrace. All this plant life isn’t mere green-washing: “We’re probably about 50 percent more efficient in energy than a typical office building of this size,” says McEvoy, nodding to the 10,000-gallon underground cistern that collects rainwater used for toilet-flushing. A chilled beam system also obviates the need for a large, energy-intensive rooftop fans.
In addition to its sustainable and biophilic aspects, the office also benefits from public transit: The building sits across the street from the local MARTA train station, and, since the move, the company’s suburb-based employees have been utilizing the station more than expected, according to Chip DeGrace, Interface’s vice president of workplace applications. “People from a lot of those northern [Atlanta] suburbs are actually getting to a train line up north and training that last [leg of their commutes],” he tells Metropolis. “In terms of wellness, and relieving stress from that bumper-to-bumper stuff,” easy transit access has been a gift, he adds.
Although Interface doesn’t yet have metrics to quantify the project’s benefits, DeGrace says he’s confident that the new layout is advantageous. “It’s a little early to get any great measurement, but you can see that it’s energizing [the staff],” he says. “Instead of setting up a meeting and making a formal invite to get a group together, people are there.”
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