dot-coms and telecommunications companies have come and gone over the last decade. But some, like Orange Innovations, the U.K.-based wireless phone division of France Telecom, have found a niche in this volatile market, and forged ahead. Complementing the company's business success is its innovative approach to work, and the creation of environments in which that can occur. It seems fitting that the company should choose nineteenth-century warehouses in East Cambridge as the location for its first North American headquarters. This 'it' technology and science area, just down the road from MIT, would put Orange near the academic world, where its new facility could easily attract smart, young graduates.
But transforming the five single-story warehouses was no easy task. As project architect John Paul Dunn of the Cambridge-based architectural firm Anmahain Winton explains, 'we literally rebuilt the entire building, from the concrete floor, to the columns, to the windows, to the roof. I like to say the only thing left was the sprinkler system.' One unexpected site condition after another placed inordinate pressure on the budget, and forced the designers to create innovative design solutions.
balance and transformation
The project is a dedicated collaboration between the client, Anmahain Winton (AW), and Cambridge-based lighting design firm LAM Partners. AW and LAM had collaborated on several projects before, and through that work LAM had come to understand AW's style and architectural compositions.
The architects were challenged with balancing the needs of private offices, flexible open-office space that could be reconfigured on a regular basis, and the communal areas that would tie it all together. AW's solution is nothing short of unique, as it joined the dark warehouses into one bright, airy workspace. By converting the 6-foot-wide alleyways between the buildings into atria planted with bamboo, the architects used the existing features of the site and structures to create natural light funnels. The result is an exceptional quality of light throughout the year. It also brings an element of nature into the building, further complemented by the unaffected material palette of wood, concrete, steel, and glass.
'The space has been completely transformed,' says Michael Cappelletti, director of the North American headquarters, who was involved from the beginning of the project. 'The space works well for what Orange does. It is a very comfortable environment for people to stay in throughout the day, owing to the daylighting. Staff is here 24/7, and because they feel comfortable and safe in the space at all hours, we were able to switch over to a hand-print scanning security system, rather than employ security guards.'
The lighting also responds to the unique architectural elements in the project, which were conceived to meet the needs of this cutting-edge telecommunications company. There are four types of electric light sources: pendants, soffits, cans and a horizontal strip. The daylight that permeates the space through the atria is further emphasized as it bounces off of the architect's custom-designed metal-mesh ceiling panels. Out of 100 staff, there has only been one request for supplemental task lighting.
In the open-office areas, the architects designed mobile wood workstations that function like a kit of parts. Typical workstations link to data and electrical connections at only a few points, making it difficult to reconfigure; here, the architects designed an electrical busway and data cable trays suspended from the ceiling that the stations can attach to at any point. 'The stations tie into the grid,' says Dunn, 'but they are not tied down to a specific linear system.' Adds Cappelletti, 'It only takes two people to reconfigure 12 to 14 stations in less than two days. The system saves an immense amount of time.'
The lighting is equally flexible and provides a consistent level of ambient light. Since the facility is in operation around the clock, the designers created a central and perimeter switching system. During the day, there is enough light coming in through windows and atria, and the electric sources are not required. The perimeter switching is turned on only at night. 'We didn't need to adjust the light levels given the abundance of daylight. It's a tremendous amenity, a unique feature you don't see in other buildings,' says LAM principal Paul Zaferiou.
The natural material palette and abundance of light facilitates Orange's approach to work. The commitment of all involved, from the design team to the client, speaks to the importance of good design and how that can be integrated with business. 'This building embodies everything that is the Orange brand value to the nth degree,' says Cappelletti. 'When you first walk into the space its completely different-concrete floors, exposed ceiling, and glass. You don't realize how comfortable you are in the space; it comes down to the lighting design, it really works.' elizabeth donoff