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Photo © Jeremy Bittermann
The Packard Foundation's new building in Los Altos is designed to evoke a scaled-up house, rather than a downsized office block.


David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Giving Green: EHDD crafts a luxe, carbon-footprint-conscious new HQ for a philanthropic organization.

By Asad Syrkett
November 2012

"The central narrative of the Packard Foundation is that it began around David and Lucile's dining-room table," explains Brad Jacobson, senior associate at San Francisco–based architecture and planning office EHDD. So in designing a new headquarters for the 48-year-old philanthropic organization in Los Altos, California, the firm wanted to create a hybrid workplace that felt more like a scaled-up home than a downsized office block. "The foundation said no to anything that smelled at all of slick office building," says Jacobson.


Location Los Altos, California (San Francisco Bay watershed)

Gross area 49,161 ft2 (4,567 m2)

Completed June 2012

Cost Withheld

Annual purchased energy use (based on simulation) -3.4 kBtu/ft2 (-39 MJ/m2), 100% reduction from base case

Annual carbon footprint (predicted) -0.7 lbs CO2/ft2 (-3.5 kg CO2/m2)

Program Private offices, open office spaces, staff spaces, conference rooms, large meeting room



Roofing Sika Sarnafil; American Hydrotech

Paints and stains Glidden Professional

Flooring Daltile (floor tile); Capri Cork; Oregon Lumber (end-grain wood); Tandus Flooring (carpet)

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David and Lucile Packard Foundation
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The result is something between a house and a global institution's sleek command center, fitting digs for an organization established by the "Packard" half of computer-products and technology powerhouse Hewlett-Packard. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation's mission is to "work with partners around the world to improve the lives of children, families, and communities," according to its website. Since its modest beginnings in 1964, the foundation has provided grants for efforts ranging from sustainable fisheries to health-care initiatives for underserved children.

The organization's new HQ, which is designed for net-zero energy consumption and LEED Platinum certification, includes private offices, open work areas, communal gathering spaces, and conference rooms. Appropriately for a nonprofit, it eschews extravagance but still possesses an elegance and sophistication uncharacteristic of your typical workplace. While the new building, with its canted roofscape and overhangs, doesn't seem out of place among neighboring 1960s- and '70s-era office buildings, it is both significantly larger (at nearly 50,000 square feet) and decidedly more materially diverse: The wood-and-steel-frame structure makes use of quartzite, FSC-certified cedar, and recycled copper along several upper-level exteriors. Inside, eucalyptus (also FSC-certified), tile, and bronze meet glass and pine.

The new building differs from the standard office block in its openness to the street as well. This transparency was sorely lacking in the organization's previous headquarters, a much smaller low-rise concrete box (circa 1970) across Second Street. With the new HQ, the foundation aimed to provide extra space and a comfortable work environment for its employees and to create a building that felt as if it was interfacing with the community around it.

EHDD created two 250-foot-long office pavilions, connected by enclosed bridges and organized around a central, planted courtyard. Visitors arrive via a stone pathway that leads up to the main entrance. Inside, a roughly hewn, dining-room-table-like reception desk of reclaimed redwood helps set the tone of the center, which is homey even as it projects authority. "We spent a good deal of time thinking about this space, as it's really the face of the organization," Jacobson explains.

On both the first and second levels, EHDD pushed private, enclosed offices to the perimeter of the building, and clustered cubicles—called "office neighborhoods"—along its length according to the specific functions of a team of employees. "We wanted to create a really human-scaled space that didn't feel like a sea of workstations," says Marc L'Italien, design principal at EHDD. Jacobson concurs, adding that EHDD did a lot of research about how people work. "We found that people spend about half their time working solo and the other half meeting and collaborating," he says. The diversity of spaces for both informal and formal gathering, which pepper areas both indoors and out, reflects this analysis. A large meeting room on the ground level is partitioned from an interstitial space with floor-to-ceiling frosted-glass sliding doors that can be opened up to the lobby and courtyard beyond. Details like a pattern of windblown foliage on the panels, and an acoustic ceiling articulated with soffits of various depths to accommodate ceiling-embedded chilled beams, give the space a meticulous, curated feel.

Not every carefully considered detail is visible, however. What visitors don't see is the seismic-bracing system, a self-centering rocking frame implemented by structural engineers at Berkeley, California–based firm Tipping Mar. This intervention goes much further than the state's building code requires, explains Steven Tipping, the firm's president. "The California building code is much more about 'life safety' than preserving the building. We tried to come up with a building that was life-safe and minimized damage to the building during 'the Big One,' " Tipping says, referring to the high-magnitude earthquake that forecasters predict California will have in the coming decades. "This kind of brace-frame system is more ductile and less likely to buckle. The architectural intent of the building required the braces be covered up, but I'm sad about that!" Tipping concedes with a laugh. "They would have made a good conversation piece."

The overall comfort of the work environment was also paramount. Clerestory windows and skylights along the pavilions' northwest and southwest facades provide daylight to these interior spaces. Of course, all this sunlight calls for ways to shade the building when needed. One passive method is the inclusion of Douglas-fir overhangs that provide some cover as the sun moves above. EHDD also combined automatic interior blinds with exterior shades that rise and fall with the movement of the sun over Silicon Valley.

Integral Group, the project's m/e/p engineer, modeled the building's energy use at 69 percent better than the ASHRAE 90.1-2007 benchmark, pegging its annual use at 17 percent lower than the 273,000 kilowatt-hours its photovoltaic panels produce. Monitoring data from its first few months of operation show energy use to be even lower than predicted, while PV production is in line with projections. Much of these energy savings come from reduced plug loads, which until recently many engineers considered outside their scope of responsibility. In very-low-energy buildings like the Packard Foundation, though, failing to address plug loads would blow the energy budget.

EHDD didn't stop at plug loads in addressing the foundation's energy footprint. It scrapped earlier plans for underground parking, realizing that the total number of spaces would exceed the number of employees. The foundation also provides a shuttle to Caltrain, the local commuter-rail service. "We presented them with a plan not only for a new building, but also for changing the organization's overall sustainability," says Jacobson. "I think they responded really well to that."


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