Lake County’s Largest Architect Models Next-gen Office with New Gurnee Studio
Contemporary . . . with a splash of shag: Legat Architects’ new digs designed to demonstrate strong design, enhance performance, and entice talent
[Gurnee, IL] – Ted Haug, who has devoted his career to design, spent over 30 years at Legat Architects’ oldest studio. Early last year, the shag carpeting that still showed in that studio was one of many relics that once made it a forward-looking office environment.
Haug, Legat’s design principal, felt both excitement and a touch of sadness when the firm decided to consolidate its Waukegan and Crystal Lake studios at one Gurnee location. The plan: transform an unfinished office space into something that responds to the needs of today’s workforce and that embodies the firm’s values.
Haug put into action the interactive process that the firm embraces with all its clients: a core team gathered input from the two studios’ staff members—from student interns to firm leadership—then crafted the design.
In late June of 2016, “Legat Gurnee” had its internal premiere. Employees from all Legat studios gathered in the naturally lit education/recreation zone named “the backyard” (inspired by its suburban locale and its location within the studio).
“This studio exemplifies everything that we stand for: it’s beautiful, it’s sustainable, and it’s cost-effective,” said Legat CEO/ President Patrick Brosnan at the event. “It displays the things that we architects love and it supports the art of interaction that drives our projects.”
The sealed natural concrete walkway that wraps the 10,000-square-foot studio reveals glass-enclosed conferencing spaces, “the grille” (another suburban reference) for design discussions, nooks for spontaneous meetings or quiet work, and even “the shop” for 3-D model assembly, sample material selection, and other hands-on activities.
The central work area groups architects in clusters of four to six. They can work at their stations—the work surfaces are solid core birch veneered doors—or turn around and sit on colorful ottomans to discuss project details with team members. A more active option is to bounce ideas off one another at a ping-pong table. An “exposed building structure” painted bright white celebrates the systems and infrastructure that ceilings typically hide, while soft indirect light reduces glare and eye strain.
Legat veterans chuckle when they see the lobby’s circular shag rug and, above it, a suspended globe light, both playful tributes to the original studio. And through it all streams natural light. The team applied biophilic design (i.e., the integration of nature into the built environment) concepts to capture daylight courtesy of ribbon windows and “solatube” skylights above the deeper internal spaces of the studio.
When asked what motivated the design, Haug simply gestures toward a 137-foot-long wall that radiates “Legat orange.” This interior billboard features a mural of firm founder Joseph Legat (at age 28) along with the three words in which the firm is rooted: Sustainability – Performance – Design.
A Talent Magnet
Though Legat operates a downtown Chicago studio, it wanted to expand its access to the talent pool by giving another attractive workplace option to both experienced architects and recent grads who live in the northern suburbs.
Berry DeSimone, Legat’s Chief Operating Officer, said, “When trying to attract architectural talent to the suburbs, we have to not only contend with the fierce competition, but also overcome the lure of downtown Chicago.”
The firm’s leadership strongly encouraged its emerging professionals to help shape the design. Grant Ley, a second-year University of Michigan graduate student, helped plan the new studio. He researched the skylights and a global LED network that automatically adjusts lighting.
“It’s really rewarding to come to the office and see that I played a part in the creation of this space,” said Ley. “It’s also humbling to have had this level of involvement in a project so early in my career. It’s an experience a lot of students wouldn’t get”.
A recent headline in The Architects’ Journal said, “It’s True: People Don’t Know What Architects Do.” One reason for that is that architects have become detached from their communities. Another goal of Legat Gurnee was to break down those barriers and better connect with its community.
That inspired the design of “the backyard,” an open area in the rear of the studio. The space, equipped with large screen projector technology, can host everything from structured lectures to informal social events. The different activities happening within the space at any given time reveal its flexibility: One afternoon, a few employees relax in lounge chairs and eat lunch while searching iPads. The next day, the space might be the host venue for a sustainable design seminar for local building owners or an architectural primer for high school students.
The firm envisions offering “the backyard” to community and neighborhood organizations as a gathering place option. It also plans to expand the space with an outdoor patio.
Legat also wanted to demonstrate that it could achieve strong design and an advanced, energy-efficient corporate setting without breaking the budget.
The team identified “sacred” elements (e.g, frameless glass partitions and glass doors) that couldn’t be sacrificed. Less essential components, however, were freed up for cost-effective alternatives:
- Solid core residential doors for work surfaces (instead of manufactured office desks)
- Water-based epoxy sealer over existing concrete floor (instead of large porcelain tiles)
- Exposed infrastructure (instead of finished ceiling systems)
- Electrostatically-painted existing file cabinets (instead of buying new ones)
Haug said, “Our firm founder Joe Legat, who has a space in the new studio, taught us about the importance of client relationships, as well as on-time and on-budget projects. Our own project is no exception.”
A Sustainable Challenge
Mike Maloney has helped many Legat clients achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The rating system honors building practices that “save money and resources and have a positive impact on the health of occupants, while promoting renewable, clean energy.”
“The latest LEED requirements are stricter than they’ve ever been,” said Maloney. “Combined with a tight project budget and schedule, it came as quite a challenge to pursue certification for our interior buildout.”
The project team worked closely with engineers on the design of the building systems and kept a careful eye on which products were used for construction. Maloney said, “We had to reject several paints and sealers because their VOC (volatile organic compounds) content was too high.” Additional steps to achieve certification included the following:
- Reused furniture and equipment from old offices to reduce waste
- Specified regionally extracted and manufactured construction materials with high recycled content
- Diverted over 50% of construction waste from the landfill
- Designed daylighting system featuring natural light, LED lighting, and plenty of outside views
- Installed energy-efficient HVAC system
The team is finalizing documentation and will await the official LEED certification.
Devoted to Details
“Less is more” and “God is in the details.” Two familiar maxims attributed to renowned Chicago architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Legat adopted both as guiding principles in the design of its Gurnee studio.
Though evidence of the firm’s devotion to details fills the studio, one space that especially exhibits clean and simple design is the main conference room. A white ceiling plane supported by 9-foot-high frameless glass appears to hover above the space. The soft glow of LED lights washes over two dark gray walls: one with a 10-foot-long frameless white glass marker surface and the other with a flat panel screen and white cabinets. Acoustically advanced carpet tiles have a pattern of grays that suggests they’ve been there awhile. A custom-shaped conference table made of natural maple laminate is supported by five raw steel bands that resemble a rib cage.
For those who need a more obvious reminder of what drives the Legat legacy, the conference room’s glass wall also frames the first word on the long orange wall: “DESIGN.”
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