A 40,000-square-foot office space for a nonprofit organization uses light to help express its mission of 'openness.'

» For the Human Rights Campaign,
a nonprofit organization that advocates gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights, the purchase of its headquarters in 2002 was a significant step in creating a presence in Washington, D.C. However, the existing mid-century structure required a substantial transformation to become a contemporary space that would appeal to the many design-savvy donors, and also convey a sense of transparencyùintended as a symbolic visual connection to the community, and a metaphor for the openness of the campaign.

In order to maximize the visibility and openness of the eight-floor structure, HOK replaced the old front-facing windows with two large curtain walls, suffusing the building with natural light. Inside, with interiors designed by SOM, open-plan work areas and floor-to-ceiling windows reiterate the organizationÆs request for transparency. Nestor Santa-Cruz, then lead designer with SOM, says, 'For typical floors, it was important that the overall feel be of 'equality,' more like an open loft.'

A neutral palette with bright accent colors and bold graphics was chosen to convey 'not a corporate scheme, but a timeless one.' In addition to blue and yellow, the colors making up the organization's equal-sign logo that is used intermittently throughout the space, Santa-Cruz adds, 'we incorporated orange and lime green as minimal accents to an otherwise white scheme. The idea was that the colors would symbolize the openness of the Human Rights Campaign.'

The lobby is bright and welcoming, and connects to both the Equality Forum, a public space used for meetings, lectures, and social gatherings, and a conference center. 'It was critical that the ground floor be appropriate for public spaces,' Santa-Cruz explains, 'that it represent the branding of the building and act as a shared lobby for tenants.' Here, a custom 48-foot continuous linear fluorescent fixture elongates the lobby. Its reflection on the conference center's glass doors gives the illusion that the luminaire extends into the adjoining space. MR16s, 2 feet on center, illuminate sections of limestone; and wood floor panels used on the elevator bank wall act as sculptural features and incorporate an element of surprise into the design.

Santa-Cruz worked closely with lighting firm MCLA principal, Maureen Moran, to implement his vision. Moran says, 'We designed the Equality Forum first and then took the lead from what was selected. Once the model was determined, we used it throughout the space.'

Behind the elevator bank and reception area is the Forum, where one glass wall, and another partially shaded window to the glass-fronted entrance, flood the open white space with daylight. Dimmable combination fluorescent and halogen linear fixtures provide ambient illumination, and also reflect onto the white terrazzo floor. In addition, an indirect covelight located in the dividing wall contributes to the ambient environment and recessed accents provide fill light when required.

At the back of the Forum, also accessible by the lobby, is the conference center. Flexible room and furniture configurations are lit by slim indirect dimmable T5HO pendants, while recessed halogen downlights accent credenzas and room partitions. As Moran says, 'There isnÆt as much flexibility as in the Equality Forum, but it is functional and attractive and the selection of fixtures works with the clean lines.'

On the upper office floors, textured white porcelain-tiled walls opposite the elevator doors are bathed in yellow light. 'Not inherent in the material itself, the color acts as a continuation of the transparency theme,' explains Santa-Cruz, and also reinforces the continuity of color throughout the building. A unique design feature carries the elevator lobby into the tenant space: A 40-foot-long linear pendant extends into the open-plan work area through a cut out in a yellow glass partition. As well as 4-inch-by-4-foot linear fluorescents and a task light (which allowed for fewer ceiling fixtures) illuminating each workstation, surface-mounted luminaires denote pathways throughout the floor.

'The lighting is simple, functional, graphic, and more than anything, architectural,' Santa-Cruz explains. Christopher Braman, community action program manager at the Human Rights Campaign, is enthusiastic about this approach. He says, 'It's a great system. We can change a meeting into a quick comfortable environment for a reception at the flip of a switch.' sallie moffat

project Human Rights Campaign Headquarters, Washington
architect HOK, Washington
interior designer SOM, Washington
lighting designer MCLA, Washington
photographer Ron Solomon, Baltimore
total square footage 40,000
watts per square foot 2.5 (lobby); 1.3 (office floors)
manufacturers Artemide, Cooper Portfolio, Elliptipar, Flos, Klemm, Selux, Vitra, Zumtobel Staff