Washington Fruit & Produce Co. headquarters in Yakima, Wash.
Kevin Scott Washington Fruit & Produce Co. headquarters in Yakima, Wash.

The new headquarters of the Washington Fruit & Produce Co. in Yakima, Wash., is full of holes. The voids, however, are intentional, inspired by the raw beauty of a nearby abandoned barn, and serve to create a central courtyard and intersecting walkways in the large building volume.

Completed in 2016 for the family-owned company, which grows, packages, and ships fruit from its 90-acre production facility in central Washington, the 16,500-square-foot building takes the form of a long, low-slung barn, its pitched roof spanning some 68 feet. Initial meetings between the designers and the client were light on architectural direction. “The only thing [the client] did was drive us out of town to this barn,” says Brett Baba, co-founder and principal of Seattle-based Graham Baba Architects. Behind the rotten wood and decay, an interior structure of heavy timber posts, beams, and diagonal struts, “or knee braces,” was left exposed, he says. “You could really see how the forces were taken care of through these pieces of wood.”

The barn inspired the exposed structure Graham Baba ultimately designed for Washington Fruit’s headquarters. Double glulam rafters form the top chords of a series of hybrid wood-and-steel girder trusses. The duo-rafters continue outside, past expansive glass curtainwalls, to sandwich an array of approximately 18-foot-tall “scissor” columns, transferring their structural load to the columns via two steel angles. The scissor columns comprise two Douglas fir glulam members angled at different directions—one lists inward toward building and the other stands perpendicular to the roof slope. Delicately crossing each other before tying into twin steel posts, the columns anchor into concrete piers.

Kevin Scott
Kevin Scott

Initial pencil sketches were followed by a series of physical and digital models in Autodesk AutoCAD in order to understand how the columns would look and feel. “We thought about doing the project in Revit, but this building is very much about the details,” Baba says. “Getting that geometry right was tricky. In fact, we discovered just before we were going into shop drawings that the actual point where the two halves of the column almost touch was tighter than we wanted it to be.” To allow for variations in construction tolerances, the firm increased the gap from “golf-ball” size to “softball” size.

To maintain a rustic, handcrafted look on the engineered glulam columns, which comprise six laminated 2x4s, the architects specified cladding the two column faces bearing the lamination seams with 2x8 lumber. “We tried to do things to the glulams so that they wouldn’t look like glulams,” Baba says.

Kevin Scott

Selkirk Timberwrights, a timber frame company based in Priest River, Idaho, fabricated the glulam columns before gluing on the lumber finish. Owner Mike MacAlevy says creating fully square columns and then notching the corners was simpler and more cost-effective than centering pre-cut 2x8s on the column faces. The grooves were machine cut and then refined and finished by hand. The glulam members were shipped from Priest River to Yakima.

The scissor columns are all identical with the exception of those that run along the building's west elevation. Still, erection was something of a puzzle, Baba says, “because, really, how do you do something like this when it hasn’t been done before?” The general contractor, local firm Artisan Inc., considered preassembling the columns and girder trusses but opted instead to erect a shoring wall at the roof’s ridgeline and assembling the wood structure in the air.

Construction went smoothly, but the team was still nervous when it became time to remove the support wall, Baba says. The contractor suggested Baba and the structural engineer, Michael Wright, stand under the roof while they kicked the wall out. Before they could acquiesce, the construction crew finished hand-tightening the turnbuckles attached to each of the truss’s metal tension rods, and the whole structure “popped up” and assumed its form, Baba says. “All that angst just disappeared. It was a great moment.”

Kevin Scott

Baba, who grew up in Yakima, is particularly proud of the project’s embodiment of the local architectural vernacular and its embrace of the surrounding hills. “I never started out to do a building that looks like this,” he says. “It’s so unexpected [but] there’s something about the rigor of it that appeals.