Designer Forum - June 2012
By Cheryl Bicknell
Stitching together old and new was the concept for the new offices for Slaterpaull Architects, located in the historic Engine House No. 5 and part of the Lower Downtown (LoDo) Historic District of Denver, Colorado.
When Slaterpaull decided to relocate to its own building, the partners searched for a space that would highlight the firm’s historic preservation and sustainable design work. They found the iconic 1922 firehouse at the corner of 19th and Market and purchased it in 2010 from the city and county of Denver with plans to adaptively reuse the building to serve as the firm’s headquarters. The historic building was transformed into a high performance sustainable office space that is one of the most energy efficient, adaptive reuse projects in Denver. Slaterpaull’s design solution for the new office blends the historic character of Engine House No. 5 with a flexible, collaborative work environment. The 13,000 square foot building is listed as a contributing building in the Lower Downtown Historic District and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Lower Downtown is also a Denver landmark district.
Even before the official purchase, the firm began the exciting process of creating its new space. With a goal of attaining a USGBC LEED Platinum Rating, a series of charrettes gathered ideas from everyone in the firm with a core team continuing to work through the design. Slaterpaull is an experienced sustainable architecture firm with more than half of the architectural staff registered as LEED accredited professionals. The main market sectors of the firm include education with a focus on pre-kindergarten through grade 12; higher education; historic preservation; and religious architecture. Utilizing their experience, the staff worked on creating the space and moving it through the paces of rehabilitation—resulting in a very personal process of design.
The origins of Engine House No. 5 date back to 1881, when the Richards Hose Company was established. In 1890, Steamer No. 5 was added to the Hose Company and in 1903 changed its name to Engine House No. 5. In 1923 the entire company was relocated to 1331 19th Street and remained an active company until 1980. The following year the location was closed as an engine house but continued operating as a support services building for the Denver Fire Department until 2010. When Slaterpaull purchased the structure, years of removal of historic elements created challenges for the Preservation Studio. With the help of historic photos and a wealth of experience from both the architect and general contractor, the exterior of the building looks very much like it did in its heyday as an active engine house.
While the exterior of the building maintains much of its historic character, the interior truly reflects the concept of stitching new pieces into the existing 90-year-old space. From the moment one enters the building, a flash of mango walls frames the reception area, setting the tone for the contemporary flavor of the office. From the walls to the flooring to the modular office furnishings, this modern concept rings through.
The Mohawk Group’s Tuff Stuff Step In Style walk off mat sets the tone at the entry vestibule. Its patterned striations stitch together the subtle tones of greys that are repeated in the linoleum, office carpeting and even the toilet room tile design. Johnsonite’s Harmonium xf linoleum sheet flooring interacts in the entry with the walk-off mat, creating a stitch of color as the pattern marches toward the reception desk. The design also pays homage to the original fireman’s pole location with a circle on the floor mirroring that in the ceiling. Unfortunately, the poles were removed years before Slaterpaull’s purchase, but the openings remained. Linoleum was selected not only for its renewable ingredients of linseed oil, flax seed and wood fibers but also for the ease of care—no waxing required! As a designer, the options are endless for the types of patterns and colors that can be incorporated. Linoleum is a 30 to 40 year product, which makes it an appealing option for the market segments that Slaterpaull serves. For Engine House, three colors were selected and a contrasting weld rod was used to stitch the pieces together.
The carpet was selected for its cradle to cradle standards and high recycled content, adding to the LEED building certification requirements. Shaw Contract’s Embellish Tile with its randomly placed striping exemplified the stitch theme the design team was hoping to achieve. Coupled with Tru Colours Tile for playful movement of color from walls to floors and Gradient Tile for calm relief for the inhabitants and visitors to the office, the mix allowed for maximum creativity and flexibility.
Taking a tour through the office reveals additional flooring surfaces. A raised floor provides preconditioned air and the 24”x24” sections are partially exposed throughout the circulation around the main studio space. Taking the rehabilitated historic stairs to the second floor leads to a portion of the original wood tongue and groove flooring that is exposed with a clear coat low VOC finish.
While flooring is a key component that brings the stitching concept home, the colorful walls with their display niches, angular ceiling clouds with integrated lighting, and glass and steel screens at the principals’ offices adds to the charming features of the office. Each is meant to inspire a spirit of collaboration within the design studio staff. In its previous office, conference and plotter areas kept staff separated into their several studios. Partnering with an open office concept, collaboration tables between office mates fosters impromptu meetings and popup design conversations that aid in the new spirit of the office.
With every design that is created, a strong concept always starts the process. Powerful words create powerful images that guide teams to powerful solutions. The concept is taken from cues from the client’s goals and requirements, as well as the area surrounding the project. For Engine House, stitching created the image that was needed. It symbolized not only stitching new pieces into an existing building and fabric of the city but also stitching studios and people together within the firm. It defined stitching a spirit of collaboration into the sustainable ideas for all the firm’s projects, and it defined the stitching of architecture and construction together into a successful design build process. For all projects, if a strong concept is not created to be a guiding principle, it is difficult to communicate to the client, the project team including all the consultants and vendors the type of space being created and the requirements for it. Sales representatives can be a key component and advocate for the overall design no matter which portion of the project chain they support, from lighting to flooring to wall covering. Providing a clear and concise concept can help them effectively and efficiently work for you and your project.
It has been a little over a year since Slaterpaull Architects moved into its new corporate office, and the firm has thoroughly enjoyed the energy efficient space. With all the sustainable features and its downtown location, the building attained the original goal of LEED Platinum Rating from the USGBC along with other accolades and praises from the lay and design community. Now the LoDo corner of 19th and Market has a whole new life that interweaves its unique presence into the existing urban fabric of the city.
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus