CASE STUDY: INTERIORS
Bowman And Brooke LLP
Cheered-Up Offices: These light-filled, colorful law offices convincingly defy the profession’s stuffy reputation
The charge from the client was simple and direct—they didn’t want to look like a law firm—and the design team complied. The Minneapolis office of Bowman and Brooke, a nationwide practice of trial lawyers specializing in product liability cases, is not somber, ponderous, dark, heavy, or walnut-paneled. It is green, as in LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) certified. SmithGroup had just opened an office in Minneapolis and wanted to be considered for the project. “I didn’t see how they could pull it off, but in the end they blew everyone away with their dramatic ideas for color, light, and liveliness,” says founding partner Dick Bowman. “And, unlike the other architects, they brought green to us.”
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For the SmithGroup, going green was a no-brainer. And Bowman and Brooke needed little convincing: The firm’s Richmond office had done pro bono work for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, whose headquarters, completed in 2000 (and coincidentally designed by SmithGroup), was the first LEED Platinum building. It seemed logical for the law firm to also support the environment through its facilities. “They were on board immediately,” recalls Rebecca Nolan, principal-in-charge. “Sustainability connected the firm with its clients.”
Bowman and Brooke relocated within the same 36-story office building built in 1988. But the new offices, on three contiguous floors, are a world apart. In the old offices, described by employees as cave like, little daylight penetrated the interior areas. In the new plan, private offices still hug the perimeter, but they feature full-height, three-foot-wide sidelights, a very unusual feature for law firm offices. “Most attorneys won’t consider [sidelights], but this firm practices differently, and they wanted a lot of daylight,” says project designer Michael Nolan.
The 57,000-gross-square-foot floor plan allows open workstations at the windows, providing exterior views from all corridors. Shared spaces—the library, main conference room, and the employee café—are glass-enclosed, adding to the transparency. Interestingly, although the design team focused on it, the project did not achieve the daylighting and views LEED credits because when the total perimeter of the three floors was considered, they did not have enough open area. “However,” states Michael Nolan, “we’re proud of the improved environment provided for the Bowman and Brooke staff and how the daylight is shared by all occupants of the space.”
Most of the airy feeling comes from the open-riser stair that acts as a connecting spine, linking the firm’s community spaces with reception and a conference center at the mid-level, a café at the lower level, and a resource library at the top. Generously sized and brightly colored, the stair anchors the space and serves as an icon for the firm’s culture. The serendipity of communication and collaboration it allows creates a level of energy that transfers horizontally as well as vertically.
Concerned about the open stair becoming a sound well, the project team paid particular attention to acoustics by minimizing the amount of gypsum-board ceilings. Other than soffits, all ceiling surfaces are either acoustical tile or stretched fabric installed over sound-absorptive material. While monolithic in appearance, the solution eliminated echo and reverberation.
The project did not earn any energy points, other than green power, despite its location in an Energy Star–rated building. It did well in its use of recycled content, regional materials, and furniture reuse. Low-VOC adhesives and sealants and low-formaldehyde wood products are a few of the other sustainable design strategies employed.
Occupant comfort and employee satisfaction drove the project. “What we love about our new offices is that there does not appear to be a lawyer within miles,” says Dick Bowman, “plus it’s very hard to walk around here without a grin on my face.
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