After more than 30 years building interior tenant improvements for others, the construction company Sierra Pacific Constructors (SPC) needed a larger workspace that it would be proud to show off as its own. The company commissioned Shubin + Donaldson, a firm based in both Culver City and Santa Barbara, California, to design its new offices in the San Fernando Valley enclave of Woodland Hills. “We wanted the best working environment for our employees and a showpiece for our clients,” says Cary Gerhardt, co-principal of SPC.
The design firm and builder have collaborated closely since 1998, and they were jointly responsible for the offices of Biscuit Filmworks (Contract, April 2010), a film and commercial production company. For its own office, SPC purchased a generic-looking, 20-year-old, three-story building that had once housed offices for a collection agency. The structure is set well back from a major artery and surrounded by trees—a scenario that provides two rare amenities within the commercial core of the Valley: seclusion and shade.
Revealing construction while elevating details
Shubin + Donaldson’s challenge was to exploit the potential of the generic building and harness the client’s skills to upgrade it. “We’ve worked closely with Sierra Pacific to elevate commercial buildings to the level of contemporary residences,” says Russell Shubin, partner in the firm. “We started with single family houses and brought that sensibility to tenant improvement jobs, detailing industrial materials as though we were working with fine wood or stone.”
The first step for the SPC office was to sandblast the existing pink stucco exterior for a quieter tone. Next, the designers opened up the interior of the second and third floors to maximize natural lighting and views. Drywall was stripped away to reveal the full extent of large window openings, some of the steel structure, and wood ceiling joists on the second floor. “We agreed with SPC that we should peel back the skin in places to reveal the bones and establish a direct connection to nature, pulling the outside in,” Shubin says. Those simple changes add character and demonstrate the construction process, much like an anatomy drawing that hangs in a doctor’s office.
White surfaces reflect an abundance of light
For visitors emerging from the elevator and into the third floor reception area of SPC, the first impression of the office is one of light and transparency. There is no formal reception desk, only a row of workstations alternating with glass-enclosed perimeter offices and meeting areas. SPC has a hierarchy, but the management wanted to downplay distinctions of authority, so the divide between open work areas and private offices is somewhat blurred.
At the center of the floor, and extending the length of the open office area, is a broad storage unit made of a steel work surface framed in white Corian, containing files and plans. This unit runs parallel to a narrower shelf unit with workstations lined up along the far side. White cement-resin floor tiles reflect light, and gray carpet tiles in the central area absorb sound. Daylight enters the workspace from tree-shaded windows on all four sides and from a double row of skylights that are filtered by panels of bubble-patterned acrylic.
Cove lighting installed around the skylights provides additional ambient illumination. Glass-walled meeting spaces and a large conference room located on the second floor can be closed off with walnut-veneered sliding doors. The warmth of the exposed wood joists along the ceilings contrasts with the office’s otherwise cool white interior. Tilt-up steel-and-glass garage doors enclose the employees’ kitchen, break room, and the large conference room, and to take advantage of the Southern California climate, staff can open them and gain access to a tree-shaded wood deck. Project architect Mark Hershman aptly describes the office as “a tree house with a simple, uncluttered feel.”
All three levels of SPC’s office are linked by a firefighter’s pole, a popular feature suggested by Gerhardt that allows employees to pop into meetings or to make quick exits. The pole injects a little humor into this series of sophisticated spaces while serving as a reminder of the company’s reputation for enhancing every detail.
Key Design Highlights
- Clean, white surfaces with thoughtful details emphasize the company’s reputation for building tenant fit-outs on par with high-end residences.
- Features contributing to the office’s LEED-CI Platinum rating include operable windows for natural ventilation, lighting controlled by motion sensors, and a large underground tank for captured rainwater.
- Unexpected elements such as a fish tank in the lobby and a firefighter’s pole add humor and soften the sophisticated interiors.
- By connecting the interior to an outdoor terrace, the design team created opportunities for SPC employees to enjoy the Southern California climate during the workday.
Sierra Pacific Constructors
- Designer: Shubin + Donaldson Architects
- Client: Sierra Pacific Constructors
- Where: Woodland Hills, California
- What: 12,790 total square feet on three floors
- Cost/sf: $104