Soaring 50 stories over the low-rise downtown of Oklahoma City, the gleaming Devon Energy Center has become a reference point and a thing of wonder in this redeveloping prairie town. The glass-and-steel headquarters, designed by New Haven–based architects Pickard Chilton, is emblematic of what might be called Oklahoma City's renaissance.
Location Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Oklahoma River watershed)
Gross area 1.9 million ft2 (176,515 m2)
Date completed December 2012
Annual purchased energy use (based on simulation)105 kBtu/ft2 (1,194 MJ/m2), 12% reduction from base case
Annual carbon footprint (predicted)55 lbs. CO2/ft2 (270 kg CO2/m2)
Program Office tower, rotunda, podium, auditorium, parking garage, and public park
TEAM & SOURCES
Curtain wall Permasteelisa
Elastomeric and sheet CETCO
Founded in 1971, Devon Energy, an independent oil- and natural-gas exploration and production company, quickly grew to over 2,000 employees spread out across five different aging buildings downtown. The company needed to consolidate, but rather than relocating to the suburbs or another city, management insisted on staying in Oklahoma City and began planning the new headquarters for a 7.25-acre site. It included a massive Frank Gehry–designed underground parking garage (one of the famed architect's early projects), which they decided to demolish, and a defunct gas station on the parcel's southwest corner, which qualified the area as a brownfield site requiring remediation.
In 2008, after reviewing the credentials of prominent core-and-shell architecture firms, Devon selected Pickard Chilton, which at the time had a staggering 17 high-rise buildings in the works worldwide. Erecting the city's tallest building was not the ultimate goal of Devon executive chairman Larry Nichols, notes principal Jon Pickard. "By following the logic of meeting Devon's business needs, we were able to create something that was compelling and special and could, in fact, become a key symbol for Oklahoma City—and it turned out to be a 50-story tower," he says.
In its early analyses, the design team looked at the benefits and efficiencies of an upended-boxlike structure. Then they tweaked the form to create a building that has a more interesting geometry, with faceted and chamfered facades, but one that would still deliver the planning efficiencies characterized by a more prosaic shape. To create a curtain wall that was energy-efficient yet still conveyed a dignified, civic quality, the team conducted dozens of enclosure studies to develop a strategy for mitigating solar-heat gain without obscuring the awe-inspiring views of the endless landscape. The architects ultimately arrived at a vertical glass blade with a ceramic frit, which is attached, on five-foot modules, to a stainless-steel-and-aluminum cladding system, which is also on a low garden wing to the west.
The environmental impact of the project was a concern for the clients. Within the energy sector, Devon has a reputation for social responsibility: the company was a top-ranked independent producer of natural gas and oil on Newsweek Magazine 's 'green rankings' list for three years in a row (2009-2011). Devon is also a member of the Environmental Protection Agency's Natural Gas STAR Program, a voluntary partnership between government and the energy industry to reduce methane emissions. "The client was interested in LEED certification from the get-go," explains John Lanczycki, project manager with Pickard Chilton.
The project recently achieved LEED Gold certification with—somewhat ironically—very few points achieved in the energy category (a natural outcome of how difficult it is to make an energy-efficient glass facade). Instead, the team focused on the water-conservation and indoor-environment credits. Gensler (which did the interiors) designed the glass office partitions that—along with floor-to-ceiling low-E glass panes and the inset corners—carry abundant daylight deep into the building. About 80 percent of regularly occupied spaces have access to views of the outdoors. These features (that, among others, include improved thermal comfort) are expected to increase occupant satisfaction and improve worker productivity, and Devon plans to conduct a formal employee survey in the near future. If recruitment is any indication, the new headquarters is already a great success: the company cites the building—a poster child for density—as a major factor in attracting talent, with applications up by 40 percent.
Integrating the building with the city's fabric to create a meaningful civic space was another of Devon's main goals. "Nichols charged us with creating a center in downtown Oklahoma City," says Pickard. To this end, Nichols insisted that the complex's ground level be open to the public. So the architects created a cylindrical volume for the main entry, with a six-story-high light-flooded rotunda that buzzes with the activity of employees during their workday, but also that of tourists and locals passing through. To the east, the atrium connects to the main tower and its elegant circular elevator bank, which transports passengers to Vast, the full-service restaurant occupying the tower's top two floors. To the west, it connects to a five-story barlike volume that houses a conference and training center on its upper floors and Nebu, a corporate cafe, on the ground level. The cafe abuts a seating area that leads to a public green space, visually linking the complex to the Myriad Gardens across the street.
Devon also required an auditorium, so the design team created a freestanding building with a 300-seat theater clad in embossed stainless steel. It not only anchors the western edge of the property and renders the garden a protected space, but it declares its role as a community resource, available for public use. The last component of the program is the Colcord Hotel, a 12-story 1910 office building that was converted to a boutique hotel in 2006. Acquiring the property resulted in a useful amenity and (by linking the building to the tower) the creation of another entry point for the new complex.
Devon's interest in engaging its surroundings did not stop there. As the project developed, the company asked the city to form a tax-increment-financing (TIF) district to improve the Myriad Gardens, as well as upgrade the downtown streetscapes. A deal was struck, and Devon lent $95 million to speed up infrastructure improvement, with more money added by the city. The initiative, called Project 180, will convert all one-way streets into two-way with the addition of curbside parking, bicycle lanes, and landscaping. Across the street from the center, the newly revived Myriad Botanical Gardens bustle with visitors enjoying the playgrounds, open spaces, an outdoor amphitheater, and a greenhouse. Since 2010, the downtown's population has increased 24 percent, necessitating more new construction.
"With all the civic enhancements, it was just amazing to be a part of this process," says Lanczycki. "The client actually wanted to improve Oklahoma City's downtown—that is not always the case today in corporate America."