Tuesday, May 19, 2009

SHP's Norwood office reflects company principles, leads to growth

SHP Leading Design vice president Jeffrey A. Sackenheim believes that his company's dedication to green and sustainable building and design is the reason why they're projecting growth in 2009.

That dedication shows in the company's 22,000-square-foot space at Linden Pointe in Norwood, certified LEED Gold for commercial interiors by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

According to Sackenheim, the company began looking to move from Downtown's Kroger Building about two years ago, going through the normal review of nearly 1,000 commercial properties in the region.

"We sort of saw it as a watershed moment," he says. "We were rebranding our company [from Steed Hammond Paul]. We were building and moving a new Columbus office as well, so we were relocating two offices, we had some ownership changes. So it was kind of a time for us to think of our brand holistically."

When the space at Linden Pointe became available, the 106-year-old company knew it was a perfect fit.

"This property was appealing for a number of reasons," Sackenheim says. "It was pretty centrally-located to all of our current work staff. Also, the building itself – the orientation of the building – with the north and the south fa├žades being primarily full-glass."

With a building secured, a core design team composed of Sackenheim, SHP principal Thomas Fernandez, and a pair of interior designers had to tackle designing the space.

"We took on the task of designing our own space which, if you want a thankless task, design a space for 90 other designers!" Sackenheim says.

A fresh new face

In addition to creating a comfortable space that would allow the company's employees to flourish, the design team knew that the building would be the new public face of the rebranded SHP Leading Design.

"We also saw it as an opportunity to more publicly get our name out for the sustainable work that we do," Sackenheim says.

In 2000, SHP began its first green project with the renovation of Draper Hall at Berea College; They now employ over 60 LEED accredited professionals and are engaged in more than 40 LEED-registered projects.

"It really opened the eyes of the management at that time to formally adopt that approach to designing and building and engineering buildings," Sackenheim says. "And so, over the last nine years, we've really built our practice around that."

The building also serves to reinforce SHP's green philosophy to its clients.

"Before, we would never really bring clients to our space because it just didn't feel right," Sackenheim says. "But now, we host a lot of things here because it's a lot easier to reinforce a sustainable approach when they can see it. When we bring a prospective client through here, more often than not this space has closed the deal for us."

By seeing what a green building can do first-hand, people can more easily imagine living or working in one.

"You sort of take away the mystique that a green building has to look a certain way, it has to feel a certain way," Sackenheim says. "When people can look and touch and talk to people, and see what a positive impact this space has had on our staff, it seals the deal and confirms to them that it's the right thing to do."

Built with employees in mind

In 2008, the office won Local Favorite and Interior Design awards from the Cincinnati chapter of the American Institute of Architects and an Interior Design Award from Cincinnati Magazine.

Part of the charm of the space is the large central commons area, scattered informal breakout areas, and mobile furniture, which Sackenheim says has led to a higher level of multi-disciplinary sharing and collaboration.

Daylighting is a major focus of the design, with open floor plans, 42-inch partitions, and sloped ceiling panels.

An automatic blinds system works in connection with the sun's position, and interior light fixtures adjust to available light to maintain a constant foot-candle level.

Although he can't qualify it, Sackenheim believes that these elements have helped boost office morale and productivity.

"While it's a very nice space and it's fairly contemporary, it's not so radical and off-the-wall that people can't relate to it," he says. "It still feels like a very comfortable office environment. People are here earlier, people work later, people are here on the weekends. People are just eager as hell to be here. It's a very real thing that we've noticed."

LEEDing to growth

As a certified education provider through the USGBC, SHP Leading Design last year trained around 650 professionals on the finer points of LEED building.

The company also is heavily involved in various public sector projects within Ohio – especially in the education sector – requiring them by law to design with at least the goal of LEED Silver.

"Luckily, so many of our projects are LEED-registered or going through the final stages of certification that we've been through it enough that our guys know what needs to happen to get things in and get things done," Sackenheim says. "So there's not a real learning curve for us anymore, so our ability to get the information collected and processed and put together and submitted is much more streamlined now than it was four or five years ago."

Clients, too, now recognize the value of LEED.

"I don't know that LEED ultimately is going to be the be-all-end-all answer of sustainability," Sackenheim says. "I think it's a verification tool right now. I think it's certainly caught fire over the last couple of years, and, in the public persona, LEED is a very easy thing for them to grasp. Because of that, we're seeing an influx of projects that are seeking certification."

To Sackenheim, SHP's dedication to the core principles of green and sustainable building will lead to the company's growth, even as the LEED rating system becomes tighter and certification more difficult to achieve.

"I think it's going to get cleaner and more concise," he says. "I think the fact that they've made it a little more stringent is a good thing, because it takes out the 'greenwash' of everybody saying they're green, saying they're sustainable. There needs to be rigor in what we do, particularly as a design community and as a building community. That level of commitment I think is important."