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Solution of the Month:

By Land and by Sea

Mithun
Seattle

A maritime company known for environmental precautions steers its stewardship mission into a new headquarters.

By David Sokol
December 2013
Photo © Benjamin Benschneider/OTTO

Harbor Island embodies Seattle’s working waterfront. Since its completion by the Puget Sound Bridging and Dredging Company in 1909, the 350-acre artificial island has welcomed cargo entering the Port of Seattle, while hosting shipbuilding and other shipping-related industry. The new Harley & Lela Franco Maritime Center updates this historic scene for the 21st Century. Completed by Mithun in August, the corporate headquarters of Harley Marine Services pursues environmental performance largely to the benefit of occupants. To that effect, the LEED Gold–certified project also won office development of the year from the Washington chapter of commercial real estate organization NAIOP.

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Of this human-centered approach to sustainability, Mithun partner Bill LaPatra says, “Work is much more than a desk and a job description; we wanted to create a healthy workplace with soul, variety, family, and collaboration.”

Those terms would have been misplaced in a description of the former headquarters, which was located on the opposite end of the 3.25-acre Harbor Island site. According to Daniel Alhadeff, director of development of Harley Marine’s property arm Duwamish Properties, that single-story, 8,500-square-foot building had been filled to capacity and prevented the company from making necessary new hires. LaPatra recalls that the old space did contain two silver linings: abundant daylight and an aquarium accent. Noting company growth despite the recessionary environment, namesake Harley Franco tapped Mithun to support his company’s expansion in 2009.

“The client is a leader in marine sustainability, which has its own metrics and requirements,” LaPatra says of Franco, who founded the tugboat and barge provider in 1987. One Harley Marine entity invented a self-contained on-board recovery system (VRU) for the hydrocarbon vapors associated with petroleum cargo loadings, for example. “He wasn’t conversant with ‘on-land’ sustainable strategies, but knew that he wanted something that was green and spoke to the environment from his mission’s perspective.”

Early in design development, a rather pragmatic decision propelled the sustainability mission forward dramatically. The City of Seattle had approved a unique exception to the land-use code, Mithun had discovered, that allowed the height limit to increase from 35 to 65 feet and the project to top out at four stories. “The shift to a vertical parti was driven around the principles of the working waterfront, which needed a large apron for equipment to move up and down the shore,” LaPatra explains. Distributing 45,000 square feet in this fashion also meant a narrower footprint for daylight to penetrate.

In the revised scheme Mithun had also planned to harvest daylight with what LaPatra calls a “light court,” essentially an open-to-the-elements courtyard around which that workspace wrapped. “We stayed away from the more code-challenging enclosed atrium because of cost and complexity,” the architect adds. Yet after Franco witnessed an atrium firsthand in a London hotel, the project team pursued a more thorough approach to inside-out daylighting.

“To make the atrium cost-effective, open, communicative, and breathing without having gigantic HVAC equipment and costs for smoke evacuation, we designed and executed a horizontal smoke curtain,” LaPatra continues. By embedding smoke-protection screens in the atrium, it could remain fully open without exhaust fans. The devices are produced by Stoebich, and comprise the German manufacturer’s first installation on the West Coast.

As with the massing of the building, the move to an atrium boosted daylighting, among other sustainability and design features like supporting natural ventilation. Meanwhile, 117 rooftop photovoltaic panels were mounted around the atrium’s fritted glass skylight, generating 29,000 kilowatts of electricity at peak production.

Harley Marine employees perhaps count themselves the bigger beneficiaries of this decision making. By installing low or transparent partitions within office and desk areas, “even people near the building core get incredible views,” Alhadeff says; “the lightness also boosts morale.” The relative openness between workstations has encouraged interaction and mobile working, as well. Other boosts to morale include avoidance of red-list materials, and even a nod to the previous headquarters’ aquarium—a recreation of Puget Sound habitat that contains more than 30 species, and which fills the atrium with white noise.

Some sustainability measures at the Harley & Lela Franco Maritime Center benefit employees, but also require their help. Alhadeff oversees an extensive recycling and composting campaign, as well as thermal controls for the interior. The inclusion of a fitness center only cuts down on commute times and workday driving (Harbor Island has no permanent residents) if you’ve packed your gym clothes.

Yet like the building’s rooftop PVs or recycled-content materials, environmentally speaking, much of the new headquarters requires little piloting. That allows Harley Marine more time to focus on marine sustainability. Among those initiatives, the company is spearheading a new generation of barge-mounted VRUs, and it is upgrading its tugboat engines, which cut 198 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions in 2012 alone.

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