Feds Get Fashionably Hip Office Space

The words “government office building” may bring to mind visions of Franz Kafka’s notorious clerks’ office. Endless rows of literally gray partitions. Government workers packed into a maze of windowless tunnels. God forbid they should have a view of the outdoors, or be able to occasionally move from their cubes to a comfortable chair or table. Flexible, collaborative work spaces? Maybe at one of those stylish ad agencies where people are paid to be creative. Health club onsite? Perhaps at Google, but no way in a government office. Skinny latté on site for that sleepy meeting? No, sorry, not for the federal worker.

Not, at least, not until now…

“As you move into the floor plan, you have a huge café area with small banquet tables, expandable conference rooms, fitness center with nice locker rooms, a health clinic,” says Rocky Mountain Institute’s (RMI) Nicole LeClaire as she gestures toward a large daylit space on the second floor of the Byron Rogers Federal Office Building recently during the ground breaking ceremony for the retrofit of the building. The 620,000-square-foot building that houses 11 government agencies is one of five buildings in downtown Denver owned by the General Services Administration (GSA), the nation’s largest property owner. Four of the five GSA buildings will undergo retrofits to improve energy use, with Byron Rogers being first–saving taxpayers money over the long run, improving comfort and generally modernizing the workspaces.

“It’s all very state of the art,” LeClaire continues, pointing another direction. “This area is going to be a large conference room for all building tenants to share. There is a lot of joint meeting space on the floor plate.” Joint meeting spaces allow tenants to reserve a shared conference room for large meetings that may only occur once or twice a month, rather than having a large conference room in every tenant’s space that sits empty most of the time. “In the long run the joint-use conference space will save the tenants valuable square footage and money versus providing extra conference space on each tenant floor that will need to be conditioned, ” she explains.

Naturally, LeClaire thinks about the tenants’ energy use. While all these cool amenities, including original artwork, are a bonus, RMI is involved to help the team make the building one of the most energy-efficient office buildings in the country. LeClaire, a senior consultant at the environmental think tank is managing RMI’s involvement in the retrofit, which has a goal to reduce energy use in the building by 70 percent. Not only has the federal government decided to take up cutting-edge office features such as an onsite cafe and fitness center, it is also embracing innovative technologies, such as chilled beams, more often seen in Europe, to help bring the building to net zero energy use by 2030.

Chilled beam cooling is a unique system that feeds chilled water to “beams,” which lay in the ceiling grid and actually act as radiators chilled by recirculating water and provide cooling to the space. This system uses far less energy than other typical cooling systems because the chilled water does not have to be cooled to as low a temperature as in traditional systems. The building’s roof will also sport solar collectors, which are expected to meet 100 percent of the building’s hot water demand. The building is aiming to attain LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“The retrofit will make the building comfortable for all tenants, the people who work here and the people who visit,” says Sean Brune, Deputy Regional Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, one of the largest tenants in the building. On target to be one of the most efficient office buildings, the Byron Rogers building may also become one of the more hip and comfortable government office spaces as well. And since the federal government is one of the largest property owners in downtown in Denver and the largest property owner in the nation–comfort, efficiency and coolness could be trends that help government agencies attract and retain the best and brightest talent.

Warning all government workers: Space heaters under your desks may no longer be necessary and the lava lamps in your cubes may have to be outfitted with occupancy sensors.

The design-build team for the project includes Mortenson Construction (design-build contractor), Bennett Wagner & Grody Architects PC (lead architect, core/shell), HOK (interior design/LEED consultant), The RMH Group Inc. (mechanical/electrical engineer), Rocky Mountain Institute (green building consultant) and Martin/Martin Inc. (structural engineer/blast consultant).

(Originally published in The Huffington Post on February 25, 2011)