From reviewing recently completed projects or Engineering News-Record rankings, one can quickly glean that Okland Construction’s services are some of the best in the business. Until recently though, its office in Tempe, Arizona did not provide evidence of this. The Salt Lake City–based company had occupied a former Motor Vehicles Services inspection facility significantly set back from the road. The single-story building’s faux Spanish Revival–style architecture and mediocre energy performance did little to communicate Okland’s reputation for quality craftsmanship, nor its sustainability mission.
Photo © Bill Timmerman
Today the Tempe office is a showcase for Okland’s skills and ethics. The client served as contractor on the reinvented facility, and for its design services tapped Scottsdale-based Weddle Gilmore Black Rock Studio. The relationship between the two companies dates back to a high school addition on which they collaborated in Fort Thomas, Arizona. Their 13-year track record also includes the Rio Salado Audubon Center, which, like this project, boasts LEED Platinum certification.
The scope of work included reusing the motor-vehicles building, says Weddle Gilmore cofounder Philip Weddle, who explains, “In redeveloping it, we used a parapet wall that allowed us to create a flat roof for greater insulation and use much more reflective coating.” For additional performance improvements, the renovation borrowed the glazing system and exterior cladding from the project’s newly constructed component.
That building was erected just north of its predecessor, replacing erstwhile parking in the northeast corner the 3.4-acre property. “The site was large enough that we had ample room to position the new building according to passive sustainability principles, without the existing building being a hindrance,” Weddle says of this location. The new 24,000-square-foot, two-story structure is aligned on an east–west axis, with a completely opaque west face. The eastern elevation features a picture window framed within a cantilevering upper volume clad in unfinished steel. This composition is inspired by historic structures, namely the shuttered drive-in movie theater whose stilt-like screen still stands across the street.
Throughout the new building, windows are deeply inset for solar control. At grade, concrete partitions project from the floor plate to provide shade. On the second floor programmable louvers placed inside east- and south-facing glazing protect occupants from sun according to the conditions of the day, while perforated steel fins permanently mounted outside the north windows control the glare of late afternoon.
Besides demonstrating a common-sense response to the Sonoran Desert climate, Weddle says that Okland wanted to expose construction processes and sustainability strategies, because displaying them would serve as an education tool for clients.
In many cases, this pair of goals aligned in the same object lesson. Okland is highly regarded for its concrete work, so the new building’s atrium lobby terminates in a stair that lines a double-height board-formed concrete wall. The wall contains 20 percent fly ash content. Other two-in-one features included porous concrete paving in the visitor parking lot, which allows stormwater to percolate into soil. The employee parking lot, meanwhile, is shaded by 75 kilowatts of photovoltaic canopies, whose output fulfills 30 percent of Okland’s annual energy demand.
The design not only embodies client values, but also supports the company’s principled method of project delivery. Okland advocates for teamwork among the multiple stakeholders of a project, which is perhaps best represented by the marathon charrettes it hosts. Weddle Gilmore’s largely open interior, punctuated by large conference and training rooms, facilitates the highly dynamic approach. The office also expresses care for employees’ well-being, in general: Prominent stairs, a ground-floor fitness center, and a horseshoes pit placed in the courtyard between old and new buildings are all inviting, community-minded examples of active design.