A 1920’s can manufacturing facility became the blank canvas for an emerging tech company’s innovative workplace. The existing space had a sought-after high-bay industrial aesthetic but was also compromised by a cold leaky envelope and aging roof monitors that produced intense glare. New high-performance systems needed to provide 24/7 thermal comfort and daylight.

The design team at Charlottesville-based Parabola Architecture threaded a mezzanine within the existing seismic braced frames, maintaining a central high-bay space. The mezzanine provides workspace above while creating flexible space below for meeting rooms, open seating, bathrooms and support spaces. The areas with compromised headroom around the existing seismic braced frames are radiant and power/data manifold alcoves. By integrating complex systems into elegant and often invisible solutions, the resulting innovative workspace appears simple and inevitable.

The company’s leadership envisioned a space more akin to an artist’s studio than a high-tech office. This informed design considerations at every scale, from the detailing of the steel mezzanine and associated book ledges, to the design of the individual steel and wood desks on wheels.

SanFranTechCo Mezzanine
Prakash Patel Photography

The architecture, systems, and furniture anticipate flexibility over time. A modular wall system can be readily reconfigured over a weekend to accommodate multiple layouts. To minimize future disruption and cost, the integrated systems design anticipates a range of potential wall locations without impacting ceiling structural bracing, HVAC, electrical, fire safety (sprinklers and alarms), lighting, or acoustical panels.

Building systems are threaded through the existing network of roof trusses to deliver performance and flexibility. Complimenting the radiant floor, ducted ventilation provides fresh air. Duct-drops are integrated into the manifold alcoves below to support future room configurations without costly modifications. Reclaimed redwood book ledges offer functional surfaces while blocking noise from below.

The radiant floor adds thermal comfort to the high bay space. To achieve necessary flexibility, it is dovetailed with an innovative linear raised modular floor system of 2’x2’ access floor panels. This linear system allows power and data cable flexibility throughout the workplace. As a result, desks and seating areas can be rearranged on a whim.

SanFranTechCo Flexible Workspace Looking West
Prakash Patel Photography

Adding performance to the high bay space, acoustic sound-absorption panels—painted with mineral paint to reflect light—are mounted between existing ceiling trusses. The airy feeling of the space and areas of the redwood ceiling remain intact, while reverberant noise and daylighting are optimized to workspace criteria. Twelve new translucent skylights (replacing existing) mitigate glare and minimize the need for electric light during the day.

The design architects leveraged their firm’s unique integrated process of preemptively “designing out” extraneous, non-performative materials and toxic finishes. The strategy provides multiple environmental and performance benefits, without causing adverse impacts to human or ecological health.

SanFranTechCo Cafe
Prakash Patel Photography

The material and furniture specifications are informed by the design team’s deep experience with rigorous healthy materials protocols including Cradle to Cradle and Living Building Challenge.

In keeping with the principles of Universal Design—that all occupants regardless of gender or physical ability have a dignified experience— a multi-functional ramp gives access to the mezzanine. The ramp supports flexibility for moving furniture, and serves as a wrap-around overlook. Cultural well-being is further supported by gender-inclusive single-occupancy restrooms and showers.

Prakash Patel Photography

The custom wheeled desks can be arranged in rows or clusters as evolving teams of collaborators form and reshuffle. Flexible desk configurations informed the layout of modular power and data outlets within the innovative linear raised floor, giving the freedom to (re)arrange the space at any time with minimal effort.

Project Team

Project Name: San Francisco Tech Company (San Francisco, Calif.)
Architecture Firm: Parabola Architecture
Contractor: Devcon Construction, Inc.
Client Liaison and Project Management: Alex Neuhold Consulting
Photographers: Prakash Patel Photography