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Photo © Robert Canfield
Clerestories bring in natural light while art installations made of used, donated sporting equipment add character to the expansive office.


Clif Bar Headquarters

ZGF Architects
Emeryville, California

Going the Distance: ZGF's adaptive reuse project exemplifies design that sustains employees and the planet.

By Jenna M. McKnight
January 2012
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Kate Torgersen pops a bite-size, protein-packed Clif Shot Rok into her mouth and takes a sip from her pink Nalgene water bottle. "Sorry, I just went on a four-mile run," Torgersen, assistant communications manager at Clif Bar & Company, explains as she prepares to lead a tour of her company's new headquarters in Emeryville, California, with Kathy Berg, principal at ZGF Architects.


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It's just another Monday morning at Clif Bar, where a visitor is likely to encounter employees scaling a bouldering wall in the gym, golden retrievers lying at the feet of their owners, and toddlers prancing around the daycare center. All of this activity takes place within a spacious facility bathed in natural light and loaded with green features, from energy-saving appliances to furnishings made of salvaged wood. Designed by ZGF and completed in September 2010, the building exemplifies the company's commitment to employee satisfaction, while upholding its mission to sustain the earth.

Clif Bar has seen double-digit compounded growth in the past decade. Gary Erickson, a baker and cyclist who wanted to create a better-tasting energy bar, founded the company in 1992, naming it after his father. Now a leading producer of nutrition bars and related products, the private company has roughly 280 employees and seven different brands, ranging from its flagship bar to electrolyte drinks. Annually, it generates over $200 million in net revenue.

By the mid-2000s, Clif Bar had outgrown its Berkeley office and started hunting for a new location. It eventually landed upon a site—a 75,000-square-foot shell inside a former manufacturing plant—in the neighboring town of Emeryville, home to such innovative enterprises as Pixar. The 225,000-square-foot facility had been upgraded in 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom, and housed various companies.

"The space had a lot of elements we had been looking for," says Bruce Lymburn, Clif Bar's general counsel and project manager for the headquarters project. The raw, single-story space featured 27-foot-high ceilings and was naturally illuminated by glazing on the north facade and six 200-foot-long by 5-foot-tall clerestories. It also boasted four 250-square-foot roofless atria with glass walls, where workers could step out to get fresh air without leaving the building.

Clif Bar signed a 15-year lease in 2009 and tapped ZGF to retrofit the space. "We didn't want a small shop, but we didn't want to be with a big firm where we'd be relatively insignificant," says Lymburn of the decision to hire the Portland, Oregon–based firm. ZGF also "seemed to get" Clif Bar's unconventional culture. "We liked their appreciation for the Clif Bar mojo," he adds, speaking as much to the company's esprit de corps as the brand name for its trail mix bar.

That "mojo" centers on progressive values that emphasize environmentally responsible design and a pleasing work atmosphere. "I personally took the entire company out in groups of three to five employees and asked them how the headquarters could help them do their job better and make them happier," Lymburn recalls. His research led to the inclusion of amenities such as the 6,800-square-foot daycare facility, a café with health-conscious fare, and the fitness center, where employees are encouraged to put in half-hour workouts while on the clock.

These accoutrements, along with a theater and multipurpose room, border an expansive open office with low-walled cubicles that foster easy interaction. Meeting rooms are housed within two central 150-square-foot cubes composed of glass, steel, and wood. To delineate "neighborhoods" and purify the air, the architects incorporated a total of 400 linear feet of planter walls containing live foliage and Zen rock gardens—one of several biophilic features. They also created gardens in the four small atria. "We tried to bring in as many natural elements as possible," Berg says of their overall design strategy.

For departments that needed more privacy, such as human resources, ZGF inserted a mezzanine constructed of recycled steel and wood. This level also contains a test kitchen, where researchers cook up new products. Throughout the facility, artwork abounds: Suspended from the main ceiling, for instance, are sculptures made of used sporting gear, like the "Kayak Helix."

On the whole, the space has retained its industrial feel, with concrete floors and exposed steel beams and trusses—a deliberate part of an upgrade that was remarkably restrained. "The most significant environmental choice we made on this project was what we didn't do," explains Berg. "We often chose not to select new or replacement materials when existing finishes were appropriate."

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