HGA Positions Itself for Growth with Expanded Office
By J. Patrick Halpin, AIA
When HGA merged with Wisnewski Blair & Associates (WBA) in 2011, the national architecture, engineer, and planning firm considered more than just market growth in the Washington, D.C., region. Headquartered in Minneapolis with six additional offices in Rochester, Minnesota, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and now Alexandria, Va., HGA looked for cultural fit and a shared vision for collaboration and teamwork. HGA’s renovated and expanded office in Canal Center Plaza overlooking the Potomac River expresses that cultural fit while positioning itself for new business opportunities.
Traditionally strong in government and public work, the 50-person Alexandria office is expanding into healthcare, arts, and cultural work to complement HGA’s firm-wide portfolio. To meet that market growth, HGA began planning a new office space in 2013, searching potential locations throughout the D.C. area and surveying staff to determine shared workplace values. Research confirmed that the staff favored the existing location with its connection to the Potomac River, the Alexandria riverfront parks, regional biking and jogging trails, as well as its significant location at the restored river lock of the historic Alexandria Canal. Staff particularly valued the convenience of riding public transportation to work and enjoying the abundant riverfront amenities within steps of the front door.
Choosing, then, to expand into adjacent space, HGA reconfigured a 17,600-square-foot, two-level office to reflect firm-wide branding while anticipating staff growth and the need for teaming. HGA applied lessons learned from its success designing offices for government agencies throughout the D.C. region to create an efficient workplace for itself.
The entrance lobby sets the tone for design and teamwork. Deep auburn reclaimed wood contrasts with the white solid surface desk, exposed painted ceilings, and polished concrete floors. Floating glass panels project images of completed work for visitors to view.
Perpendicular to the lobby is the “Boulevard,” a linear circulation spine and Commons used for large meetings, client receptions, holiday parties, special events, and informal staff gatherings. Horizontal reveals along the interior wall showcase custom wood-laminated backed photographs of the firm’s portfolio while three groupings of classic mid-century modern furniture provide casual seating. Lined with large windows streaming abundant natural light, the Boulevard connects the three main conference rooms to the design studio. Table groupings and kitchenette additionally accommodate lunch seating.
Because collaboration is a priority for the firm, the open office offers a variety of small teaming spaces for impromptu meetings along the interior “Street” and “Avenue” circulation cores. Small meeting rooms on the perimeter allow private conversations. Exposed painted ceilings increase height while floating acoustical ceiling panels absorb sound over the workstations, which have lower-height partitions to provide staff views of the river, natural daylight, and each other.
A central open staircase links the first floor with the lower level and visually connects the entire office. The lower level mimics the first floor, with the inclusion of a marketing production area and design-resource library housing a high-density filing unit and large custom-millwork storage unit that doubles as presentation layout space.
“The open plan helps foster collaboration between team members,” said James Polhamus, AIA, associate vice president, who has been with the firm since 1992. “People are now more visually connected to each other and have more opportunities to meet. While we steadily have been increasing cross-office collaboration since merging with HGA, the new office has allowed us to reinforce a collaborative process at home that is consistent with the overall firm culture.”
The office is designed to meet LEED® Silver through such sustainable features as LED lighting, room-occupancy sensors, low-flow fixtures, Energy Star appliances, building bike racks, and connection to public transportation. The office is tied into the building’s energy-efficient central mechanical system. Natural daylight, exterior views from every desk, and easy access to the outdoors further enhances a healthy work environment.
“The connection to natural light and sense of openness invigorate the office,” said Emily Jelinek, IIDA, LEED AP, interior designer, who joined the firm in 2010. “We have a 270-degree expanse of windows wrapping the office. Even though individual work stations are actually smaller than in the old office, they are more efficiently designed, placing everything within easy arm’s reach. The central staircase is a striking visual focus, while the Commons has become the real heart of the office.”
HGA systematically has been renovating its seven offices, emphasizing clean details, efficient floor plans, and open work stations that express the firm’s focus on strong design. With a commitment to its surrounding neighborhood and emphasis on a positive workplace experience, the Alexandria office fits firmly into HGA’s unified focus on design and collaboration.
“The new office has helped us make the cultural transition from WBA to HGA,” said Kevin Farquhar, AIA, vice president and principal, who joined the firm in 1996. “In the original space, we felt a bit like the old firm with a new name. But now we have much more of a sense of being part of a larger national firm—a 50-person office with a 700-person team supporting us firm-wide.”
J. Patrick Halpin, AIA, is Vice President and Principal with HGA Architects and Engineers in Alexandria, Virginia.
Photos by Jim Tetro