Intergraph Headquarters: A Huntsville Workplace Revolution
By: Bill Halter, principal and director of corporate services at Cooper Carry, and Douglas Webster, senior associate at Cooper Carry and a member of the interior architectural team for the Intergraph Headquarters project
Natural materials such as exposed concrete and wood are balanced by modern lighting, workstations, glass walls and an energetic color pallet, establishing the foundation of an environment that reflects Intergraph’s cutting-edge software and hardware products.
An Alabama-based company increases collaboration and optimizes its real estate assets by shifting from numerous buildings on a sprawling corporate campus to a new high-rise.
CORPORATIONS TODAY are re-thinking their strategies for investing in owner-occupied real estate assets. Intergraph, a global leader in the field of advanced geospatial software development for both the private and government sectors, realized that its headquarters property was underperforming. The Huntsville, Alabama-based company engaged Cooper Carry to advise it on the repositioning of its real estate assets and develop a new workplace strategy on its 1 million-square-foot, 102-acre corporate campus.
Intergraph was founded in 1969 and quickly gained a reputation as an innovative software and hardware provider in a niche market. Over the years, the company’s success drove the development of an expansive campus consisting of 25 single-story buildings ranging in size from 35,000 to 54,000 square feet.
In 2010, Intergraph was acquired by the international technology firm Hexagon, based in Stockholm, Sweden. Hexagon realized that the ability to recruit and retain top talent would be central to Intergraph’s future success in a global economy. Even though Huntsville is home to NASA and the U.S. space program, it is a “hard-to-get-to” city, which challenges Intergraph’s ability to recruit from both the national and international markets.
To compound matters, the company had reduced its occupancy of the 25 buildings after divesting itself of the hardware component of its business. By 2011, Intergraph occupied only eight of the buildings and subleased the remaining space.
Because they had so much room, workers were occupying spaces that were far larger than the industry standard of 200 to 300 square feet per employee. In some cases, individuals had commandeered entire corners of buildings. Having employees so spread out and disengaged from one another was a terrible use of space. Even with over 1,000 employees, one rarely saw people interacting and collaborating.
For Intergraph, the age-old real estate axiom “location, location, location” worked in its favor, as the campus is located on a well-traveled interstate, making its real estate some of the most valuable in Huntsville. Intergraph and Hexagon officials therefore considered a plan to consolidate employees into one large building and selectively demolish several outdated buildings, resulting in a valuable parcel of land ripe for redevelopment.
Open spaces, tall ceilings, abundant and varied seating, and unique light fixtures in the two-story atrium lobby and lounge area invite the public inside.
After a number of intense strategy sessions, Intergraph leaders determined that the time was right to vacate 85 percent of the buildings spread across the campus and design a new 240,000-square-foot headquarters building to accommodate the company’s 1,100 employees. Now that requires some change management!
Cooper Carry was charged with conducting a complete workplace strategy program and to define posthaste exactly what Intergraph wanted its new facility to accomplish. The firm’s integrated design team consisted of interior designers, architects, master planners, landscape architects and environmental graphics professionals. They worked closely with the Intergraph leadership team, which was led by Ed Porter, then the firm’s senior vice president of human resources. (He is now Hexagon’s global head of human resources.) Porter’s openness and willingness to explore workplace solutions that might seem unconventional is a testament to his belief in the power of a custom-designed environment and its positive impact on employees.
Once the headquarters building design process was underway, Intergraph also hired Cooper Carry to prepare a master plan for the campus that eventually will be implemented, in part or in whole, depending on future market conditions. The master planning process has given Intergraph a guide as to how the site’s eventual redevelopment should be organized by use. The agreed-upon master plan aims to ultimately create a walkable “live, work, play” community based on a Main Street organization.
The Campus and the Lake
Site selection was vital because it would dictate every other aspect of the new headquarters building development process. While several sites had potential, a two-acre lakeside site offered the best opportunity to make critical connections to the master plan for the entire campus’s eventual redevelopment and to provide a prominent location for the new building. The lake also established an important relationship between the building and the land.
The lakeside site, located on a slight rise that places it at the highest point on the campus, also makes a dramatic and memorable first impression on visitors. It has become a subtle recruiting tool to immediately spark the interest of new talent arriving for interviews.
The new campus Main Street, designed as part of the master plan, leads employees and visitors to the front door of the new headquarters. Along the way, the street provides controlled views to the new building from across the lake. Within the master plan, the headquarters remains the focal point within the Main Street community.
Massive windows offering lake views bring in daylight, which can increase productivity and employee satisfaction, while the building’s curved shape diminishes the impact of its extreme length.
Employee and visitor parking is set on the opposite side of the building from the lake. It was a challenge to design over 1,000 spaces without creating the effect of a massive shopping center-like parking lot. The solution came in a series of radiating parking “alleys” separated by landscaped mounds. The parking alleys create a setting in which arriving employees can greet each other and converse as they walk to the building to start their day. This is one of the first “chance meeting” opportunities found throughout the project. A sweeping canopy on the front of the building directs everyone to the entry and into the building, with the view extending through the atrium to the lake beyond.
The lake also provides opportunities for employees to work outdoors and to interact with each other. To further enhance collaboration, the design team provided space for group meetings and celebrations as well. Wireless connectivity allows work to flow from interior gathering spaces seamlessly to the outdoors.
Integrated Design Solutions
The unique shape of the building is derived from Intergraph’s work style and program, and fosters an “agile” work setting, what Intergraph refers to as “scrumming,” as in a rugby scrum. After extensive analysis, the design team suggested the optimum scrum dimension to be 20 feet wide, which provides the most flexibility and uniformity for planning and configuring workspaces. Using the 20-foot dimension, and to optimize the structural frame of the building, the design team proposed a 40-foot structural bay with post tensioning along the long dimension of the building. Only mechanical and electrical/data rooms were kept in the center, to optimize duct runs and power/data distribution.
The curved shape of the building diminishes the impact of its extreme 400-foot length, making the workspaces far more intimate and comfortable for individual and team work.
The lake facade faces west, meaning it receives harsh western sun exposure. The team conducted a series of solar analyses and, as a result, proposed a system of vertical sunshades, ceramic frit and high-performance glass. The solution maintains an open view to the lake and the remaining former campus while reducing solar heat gain and glare.
An Interior Revolution
As the Cooper Carry team began its due diligence in 2011, it was important to understand not only how Intergraph’s employees worked but, more importantly, how they wanted to work. Designers needed to create a space designed for people, their tools, work needs and well-being. It was vital that the space foster creativity, collaboration and innovation, all principles found at the core of Intergraph’s corporate philosophy.
Cooper Carry worked closely with the Intergraph team to create an innovative, forward-thinking design, both inside and out, that literally pushed the boundaries of what a corporate environment should be. Through workplace strategy sessions, designers determined that a larger floor plate with a relatively narrow cross dimension produced the most efficient way to encompass the workforce. Rethinking how core elements such as elevators, stairs and restrooms affected interior visibility and daylighting resulted in moving them to the exterior of the building, which opened up the center of the building to become a catalyst for innovation.
“Main Street,” the central spine connecting the north and south ends of the building, is delineated by open and enclosed conference rooms, huddle spaces for both individuals and groups, break areas and auxiliary support spaces. Recognizing that creativity can and should happen anywhere, at any time, the team created a working environment, encompassing both the building and the site, that frees the imagination. An outdoor plaza, on-site cafe, barista, break areas, gaming area and multitiered gathering space all provide a flexible and diversified workplace environment.
Intergraph is a dynamic, creative force in software development, and the interior architecture and design needed to provide solutions that reflected these attributes. Beginning at the lobby, employees and visitors enter a unique work environment. A two-story atrium with a dropped mezzanine offers unobstructed views of the lake. The welcoming space also provides visitors, vendors and potential employees with a lounge area that is surrounded by a state-of-the-art conferencing center and a custom light sculpture.
An open office floor plan continues the message of creativity and collaboration. The openness of the floor plan, the flexibility and diversity of the task and support-related spaces, and the accessibility of the interactive gathering spaces all provide an atmosphere that supports sharing information and ideas.
Today, the Intergraph headquarters is a workplace that meets the demands of a new work environment. It is a testament to how innovative planning and design can influence, nourish, encourage and challenge. By its very nature, the building provides a place for meeting, gathering, interacting, relaxing, collaborating and sharing — all of which are fundamental for a technology company at the forefront of innovation.
The Workplace Strategy Program
Cooper Carry used its proven and efficient process to define the optimum workspace for the new Intergraph headquarters. The designers’ first workplace strategy sessions aimed to define Intergraph’s corporate vision for this new facility. Once the broader vision was understood — and illustrated through key words and precedent imagery — more specific workplace characteristics were defined through departmental interviews and work sessions with department leaders.
Cooper Carry’s workplace team set up a dedicated “war room” in a conference room at the Intergraph campus in Huntsville. There, they held structured but sometimes open-ended discussions, which were documented on “snow cards” that covered the walls with pictographs and key words. Through a series of eight in-person sessions and four departmental interviews with key individuals, the corporate vision and specific program definition emerged to become the workplace strategy document for the new corporate headquarters building.