Sometimes the best architecture is borne not of solving problems, but turning them into assets. The new headquarters for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) headquarters is a project that does just that. IFAW's search for an affordable Cape Cod location ended with a tract along the historic Old King's Highway, occupied with the remains of a long-defunct wholesale plant nursery. "We took soil samples expecting to find pesticides," recalls Robert Miklos, principal of Boston-based designLAB Architects. "We didn't expect to find extensive heavy-metal contamination, suggesting that the site had once been a landfill."
A minimally contaminated site suddenly became a brownfield. Rejecting the simplest solution of capping the surface and building over it, IFAW chose the more complicated route—the removal of all toxins from the soil to a depth of 10 feet and the construction of a traditional Cape Cod landscape on a drumlin with native vegetation, rain gardens, and bioswales.
The centerpiece of the landscape is a large meadow around which the architects placed three buildings. "A single structure of 55,000 square feet would have been out of character with the region's vernacular architecture," explains Miklos. "The [buildings] are modeled on the classic Cape Cod barn." The shed interiors are lofts with large expanses of glass. While the open plan reduces the square footage of individual workspaces, it responds to IFAW's unique corporate culture by providing bigger conference "collaboration" rooms, private telephone rooms, and open staircases to encourage interaction.
An innovative structural system also opens the interior. The floor plates are column-free at the along the walls around the courtyard, where a screen of wood louvers hangs from the roof by steel straps. Views out of the floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the natural environs, and thus the site reclamation, proving, ultimately, that the effort was worthwhile.