Ahead of the curve
The American subsidiary of Royal Ahold, a Dutch-based retailing giant, wanted to empower its employees to be "ahead of the curve" when it planned a new information services headquarters in Greenville, S.C. To achieve that goal, the resulting 220,000-sq.-ft. oval facility was shaped as the product of strong direction by the owner and the close interaction of its building team.
Ahold USA Inc.'s building team included Atlanta-based architect Smallwood Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates (SRSS); Marietta, Ga.-based general contractor Choate Construction Co.; and the Atlanta office of Houston-based structural engineer Walter P. Moore & Associates. Hans Kempers, president of Ahold Real Estate prior to his retirement, was the owner's primary representative on the team.
The Ahold Information Center, which consolidates Ahold USA's software development and support operations, encompasses a four-story, 140,000-sq.-ft. office building and a one-story, 60,000-sq.-ft. data center, as well as conference space, a cafeteria and a 12,000-sq.-ft. employee fitness center.
Ahold decided at the outset of the project that all data operations personnel would be brought together in a single facility. Companies often banish data centers to a remote location, largely because of security considerations and because this type of facility does not require a high-cost location. Ahold decided not to follow such a pattern. "We believe the interaction of software developers and operations people makes them feel that they're an important part of a large organization," Kempers notes. Accordingly, the data center, office space and employee amenities all abut a 250-ft.-long, 25-ft.-wide gallery that provides a central space in which employees who work in various parts of the operation can interact. "Each person who works in the facility has an awareness of what's going on in other parts of the company, and it reinforces the sense that they are part of a corporate family," says Gil Garrison, project principal with SRSS.
The site also significantly influenced the development of the building's curved profile. The Ahold facility occupies a high-visibility site in the Brookfield Office Park, with major roadways bordering on two sides. The building is also visible across a small lake.
"We had a client who, after significant internal review of its options for long-range planning, established specific goals for the project," Garrison says. "Every step of the design process involved the client, Ahold Real Estate, the user group, Ahold Information Services, and the entire design team. The contractor provided cost estimating and cost control, and addressed constructability issues."
Taking the owner's pulse
To gain a clear understanding of AIS's inner workings, SRSS interviewed department managers to identify each department's needs, requirements for adjacencies and equipment and expected growth. This input was categorized in terms of "fixes" (elements or procedures that exist, but need improvement) and "switches" (elements that need to be created, or space altered, to accomplish a new direction). "Fixes" included the enhancement of communication among individuals, departments, divisions and customers. "Switches" included a homier work environment and improved ergonomics.
The building's exterior walls incorporate precast-concrete panels, low-emissivity glass and projecting custom mullion accents.
"Ahold was eager to reflect its European perspective through a high-quality, well-detailed contemporary aesthetic," Garrison observes. "The curvilinear exterior features a crisp, modular application of architectural precast concrete. Rather than adding complicated shapes and profiles, we relied on a very pristine precast concrete design and a sophisticated palette of neutral grays and buff tones to reinforce the contemporary look."
Curved surfaces were repeated on the interior, helping to achieve a high-tech appearance throughout the building. Circulation areas feature large, curved, embossed metal walls, sculpted ceilings, and metal light fixtures. Royal blue, a color associated with Ahold, is used as a recurring design element.
The simplification of an enclosure designed to keep unauthorized vehicles from entering a secure parking area adjacent to the building was one result of the building team's collaborative work, recalls Robert Hickman, project manager with Choate Construction Co. The original concept for this barrier, which extends more than 100 feet, was to use 3-ft.-high precast-concrete units topped with an aluminum fence. Switching to the use of closely spaced concrete-filled bollards camouflaged by shrubbery reduced costs, enabling funds to be reallocated for upgrading building features.
The team also collaborated to accommodate support functions within the building's curved exterior walls, by locating equipment such as switchgear rooms around the perimeter.
Although tailored to Ahold's needs, the building's design is flexible enough to accommodate other tenants as well, should Ahold decide to lease out part of the facility, or to sell it. "The design team brought to the project an awareness of industry standards such as office building footprint size and column spacing," Garrison says. "Long-term it gives them a real-estate investment with great residual value."
It is more likely, however, that an expansion will be needed to keep pace with the fast-growing, acquisition-minded retailer. The building's plan will accommodate a 90,000-sq.-ft. expansion of the office without disrupting existing circulation patterns. Built-in redundancies include two feeds from the electric utility and two generators.
The contractor, Choate, joined the team at the project's schematic design stage. Extensive design work also occurred while the project was under construction. "Be-cause the project was fast-tracked, with time being of the essence, many decisions had to be made in the field," Hickman says.
As is typical with any project, every key team member did not need to sign off on each. But Hickman says the most important underlying consideration was to assure that the integrity of the design was not jeopardized.
Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and a former staff editor of BD&C.