CHALLENGE Working in the financial services industry is a stressful, highly charged experience in which 15-hour workdays are the norm. When one quickly growing northern California equity firm needed to move its operations to accommodate its personnel expansion, it hired Gensler to transform two unconnected floors in a typical suburban office park building into an interconnected open-planned space that both defied the traditional Wall Street aesthetic (dark woods and indistinct partitioned interiors) and created a hospitable and luminous working environment that encourages dynamic activity, cross-collaboration, and enables private meetings with clients.

ARCHITECTURAL AND LIGHTING SOLUTION The result is a highly transparent yet quiet multilayered space that conveys a sophisticated casualness appropriate for a West Coast equity firm and takes advantage of the building's large windows to channel natural light across the space, a key client requirement that Gensler fulfilled by selecting glass walls to enclose the perimeter offices and removing all structural obstructions from the core to create an open administrative area. This arrangement enabled Gensler to use natural light—rather than rely on electric sources—as the primary source of interior illumination. Doing so allowed the design team to not only realize another client requirement—integrating the exterior and the interior environments—but also create what Gensler design director Douglas Giesey describes as a dynamic workspace enlivened by “its subtle but unexpected visibility and views.”

To develop a lighting scheme that would support the use of natural light as the primary source of interior illumination, Gensler turned to Los Angeles-based lighting designer Alfred Scholze. Scholze used digital imaging to create a plan that ensured the quality of natural light pervaded throughout the two floors.

One architectural element that enabled Scholze to accomplish this is the office area's cove ceiling. The cove not only subtly maximizes the office's volume through its visual extension of the space's structural linearity but also provided Scholze with an opportunity to tuck away T6 lamps—generating 33 watts per 4 square feet—and create a stream of end-to-end fixtures thus eliminating socket channels. The result successfully unifies the interior through a continuous quality of bright light that extends from perimeter to core. “Rarely,” Scholze explains, “does an office feel this open and this lively.”

The cove's electrically illuminated curvilinear planes effectively maintain the quality of natural light, while the white ceiling's reflective property efficiently transmits the fluorescent light across the space, visually suggesting the interior presence of the sky. The cove's design also enabled Scholze to develop an interior lighting scheme that—because it required fewer fixtures than the typical office space—uses a mere 1.1 watts per square foot, a calculation that meets California's stringent Title 24 energy code and gave the equity firm's principals what they wanted: A practical lighting solution that was more about providing functional quality than creating a signature space or an architectural mood.

To enhance the flow of natural light throughout the space, Gensler added a skylight above the new staircase that connects the upper-level workspace with the lower-level hospitality-oriented floor, which also houses showers, casual dining, and seating areas. And because this skylight channels so much natural light into the core, Scholze was able to select low-voltage pendant downlights to illuminate the dining area and complement the natural light flowing into the seating area. This type of downlight also is used to illuminate the traditionally partitioned lobby and reception areas, spaces the Gensler team adorned in lightly hued fabrics (carpeting, upholstery) and wood elements (floors, desks, glass-wall trim) to enhance the quality of natural light, enable daylight to fully permeate the space, and to provide a formal tactility appropriate for a serious-minded business environment.


PROJECT | Private Equity Office, Menlo Park, California
DESIGN TEAM | Gensler, San Francisco (architect); Alfred Scholze & Associates, Venice, California (lighting designer)
PHOTOGRAPHERS | Benny Chan, Fotoworks, Los Angeles, California; Sherman Takata, Gensler, San Francisco
DRAWING | Courtesy of Gensler, San Francisco (below)
PROJECT SIZE | 31,000 square feet
MANUFACTURERS | Bartco, Delta, Elite, Iris, Legion, Lightolier, Louis Poulsen, Mark Lighting, Metalux, Nippo, Peerless, RSA, Systemalux