Going Beyond Green for Google

Summer 2015
Google’s 128,000-square-foot office building in Irvine, California, features a monolithic glass and aluminum curtain wall exterior that reflects the sky and provides ample daylight for workers inside. Photos: Still Architectural Photography

A new creative office building becomes the first speculative office building in Southern California to achieve LEED for Core and Shell Platinum certification. 

IN 2012, WESTGROUP Designs had the opportunity to create a new office building for Google at Impac Center in Irvine, California. The existing campus was a collection of office buildings and a freestanding restaurant set around a vehicular approach, which resulted in awkward geometries, limited pedestrian interaction and underutilized spaces. 

The new building needed to incorporate design features that would appeal to Google while maintaining and improving synergy with the existing structures. The tenant wanted a creative, sustainable and energy-efficient building that could achieve LEED Platinum certification and meet many goals of the International Living Building Institute’s Living Building Challenge, including the assurance that materials used in the project avoided unhealthy items from the Challenge’s “Red List” of “‘worst in class’ materials, chemicals, and elements known to pose serious risks to human health and the greater ecosystem.” These include asbestos, cadmium, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chloroprene (neoprene), added formaldehyde, halogenated flame retardants, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), added lead, mercury, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and more.

At its core, the Living Building Challenge aims to be the next step in sustainable measurement; its goal is to push sustainability to the highest level. As the project was designed and constructed, the development team made every possible effort to avoid the use of these materials; for example, alternative products were used in place of PVC plumbing and piping. But all parties recognized that, in some cases, no viable alternative product existed. After thorough review and oversight — and only if the design team, building owner and tenant were in agreement — the use of some products containing a chemical on the Red List was allowed. This process ensured that the best possible material, in terms of occupant health, was selected.

aerial view of a plaza and the top deck of an office building

The building’s expansive plaza and rooftop deck enable employees to enjoy the Southern California climate.

Keeping in mind the growing demand by companies for indoor/outdoor spaces that promote occupant health while encouraging social interaction, Westgroup’s design involved positioning the new building in a way that enabled it to create a plaza that has become an outdoor campus-wide amenity. The building’s upper levels feature ample terrace balconies and a roof deck garden for Google employees’ daily use. 

Monolithic glass and an aluminum curtain wall were used primarily on the pedestrian courtyard exposure to reduce the perception of building mass by pulling in reflections of the sky. The east elevation incorporates precast concrete in a color palette that echoes the earth tones of the surrounding wetlands and the Saddleback Mountains beyond; balconies on the west side of the building treat residents to expansive views of those natural features. 

The design achieves a BOMA rentable efficiency ratio of 85 percent. Floor plates maximize daylight and optimize space planning needs, both for Google and for potential future multitenant occupancy scenarios. The floor plates take advantage of unique site geometries while creating a variety of building amenity spaces that include below-grade executive parking with electric vehicle charging stations, a fitness center, a cafe, a “conference arena” (a roughly 4,000-square-foot space in which the tenant can hold presentations, new product demonstrations and lectures) and the roof garden. 

table with a list of items 

One design strategy that resulted in a more efficient building while saving time and money involved the decision to keep the structure below the building code’s “high-rise” height of 55 feet, which saved the additional cost of fire life safety systems associated with high-rise development. To accomplish this, Westgroup used building information modeling (BIM) to maximize entitled areas, increasing floor plates and ceiling heights while simultaneously optimizing the exterior envelope materials to eliminate half the glazing weight and reduce total structural steel tonnage. The end result: a more efficient building that was constructed faster and saved the project over $1.5 million.

Participating in the LEED certification program and designing to the goals of the Living Building Challenge resulted in a more energy-efficient workplace that contributes to the health and well-being of employees. The building was completed in June 2014 and awarded LEED for Core and Shell Platinum certification that October; it was the first speculative office building in Southern California to achieve this distinction.