If, in this era of declining print subscriptions, executives at the Harvard Business Review want proof that their articles have a direct impact on business, they need look no further than the SAP Americas Headquarters Expansion. An article in that vaunted journal about Renzo Piano and FXFowle’s collaboration on the ultra-green New York Times Building caught the eyes of SAP executives and spurred the German company—a manufacturer of workplace software—to shortlist FXFowle for an invited competition to design a new building at its North American headquarters. As the creators of programs such as SAP Carbon Impact (a software tool that records and manages carbon consumption across business operations), going green was the only option. “This is concrete evidence of our commitment to sustainability,” says Brian Barrett, facilities project manager for the company.
The RFP for the 210,000-square-foot building in Newtown Square, Pa.—15 miles outside Philadelphia—included a requirement for LEED Silver compliance. One of the reasons SAP chose FXFowle was that the New York–based firm said: What about going for Platinum?
Also in the RFP was a request that the new building integrate well with the site—a bucolic expanse, speckled with old-growth chestnut trees. In 2006, when FXFowle won the commission, the plot contained only a three-story tract office building, which held roughly half of SAP’s Pennsylvania workforce. The other half was housed in rented office space not far away; the expansion was intended to bring everyone together in one complex.
The serpentine curve of the new building was designed and sited to create a Wi-Fi–enabled courtyard, a work and break-out space for employees, while maximizing views from the open office floors. To maintain the scale of the existing building, the site was excavated and the first floor of the new headquarters building sunk down into the ground, with a substantial light trough to ensure daylight still reaches the interior. Separated into four floors, the bulk of the new building is open-plan office space. Conference rooms and private offices are organized into corridors across the width of the floor plates, to keep views unobstructed.
But getting to LEED Platinum takes more than just careful siting. The building doesn’t employ any systems that are new to FXFowle, but “it does combine them in ways we have not before,” says Guy Geier, partner-in-charge of the project. To minimize heat gain and control heat loss during the winter, the team wrapped the structure in a triple-glazed curtain-wall system (see below). This intense insulation is paired with an HVAC system that includes underfloor air distribution, geothermal wells for heating, and ice chillers and evaporative cooling towers. There are electric HVAC diffusers embedded in the ceiling plane, but design partner Bruce Fowle describes them as backup. “They are there in the event of an extreme condition, but would rarely be used,” he says. Site plantings manage stormwater runoff, while green roofs help to limit the heat island effect and provide an accessible outdoor space. Sharing the roof plane is an array of solar panels.
These individual systems are all brought together by a sophisticated Building Management System (BMS). Barrett describes a necessary learning curve—the running of exhaust fans had to be tweaked to reduce the static pressure in the building, for example—but the BMS allows Barrett to drill down to how much energy is being used by each system, and to predict the results of any changes. Energy usage is just over 1 kW per square foot, a reduction of 60 percent over the old building. SAP’s corporate parent in Germany is so impressed that it is looking at installing a similar BMS in the older building. And if green begets green, look for other sustainable projects from this corporation in the future.
Unitized Aluminum Curtain Wall
One of the largest sustainable systems in the new SAP Americas headquarters building is, ironically, one of the least obvious to the naked eye: a triple-glazed curtain-wall system. First suggested for the project by engineers WSP Flack+Kurtz, who had experience working with the product overseas, the glass skin looks like that on many modern structures. But within each insulated glass unit, there are three glass panes instead of two, radically improving the heat-gain coefficient. The extra width of the units (which are 1-3/4 inches thick instead of the standard 1 inch) was accommodated by the aluminum curtain-wall system. Thin mullions—roughly 2 inches wide—and large module widths and heights minimize the disruption of the glazing.
The curtain wall’s thermal performance eliminates the need for perimeter heating that wouldn’t be supported by the building’s underfloor air distribution and radiant heating systems. The cost savings of eliminating the perimeter HVAC helped cover the more expensive glazing system. In addition to the cost savings of avoiding a fully customized system, “there wasn’t a lot of time to develop custom dies,” says project director John Schuyler, “so we challenged ourselves by using off-the-shelf systems.” Still, some things had to be specially designed, including customized connectors to attach the snap-on 12-inch-deep horizontal sunshades. One downside to a triple-glazed system, the extra weight, wasn’t an issue here because of low overall height.
The color of the glass had to complement the existing building while still meeting efficiency requirements. “We ended up using a so-called ‘clear,” Schuyler says, “but it actually picks up a little bit of color. We were looking to set up the right relationship with [the glazing] on the existing building.” On-site mock-ups helped the color selection process, which resulted in the architects choosing slightly bluer and greener tints for the east, north, and west façades.