Day 11: The Beauty of Process & Partnerships

Photos by Chang Kim & Devin J. Dilmore.

Photos by Chang Kim & Devin J. Dilmore.

“What a beautiful maintenance facility!” said no one ever.

But Division 13 (D13) isn’t your average bus maintenance and operations facility. Beauty, whether being used as an adjective to refer to our built environment or otherwise, is inherently subjective and its use is easily debatable. Beauty can describe physical appearance and it can also be about the meaning and the process behind a project. LA Metro and the D13 design team at RNL sought to design something different when the project was first conceived. The facility was not only meant to be physically attractive, but it was also to represent something different, that appeals to the senses on a larger scale.

The tree is depicted as a series of graphite drawings laminated to polycarbonate panels. Source:  Metro

The tree is depicted as a series of graphite drawings laminated to polycarbonate panels. Source: Metro

The use of color, scale, landscape and massing all contribute to the beauty of D13, but one element stands out above the others is the public art integration. The lantern, as it is referred to, is subtle and almost hidden during the day, but at night becomes a focal point. The dynamic art piece is the product of an extremely collaborative effort by RNL, Metro Art, 3form and artist Christine Ulke. The artwork consists of hand drawings of a sycamore tree that were scanned, enlarged and printed onto a interlayer of composite translucent 3form panels. Titled El Aliso de Los Angeles, the piece commemorates a 400 year old tree which stood near the site and was cut down due to encroaching industrialization. The massive tree was at the center of Yaanga, one of the largest settlements of the native Tongva people in the LA basin.

It can be seen as an urban scale lantern, but more importantly as a commentary on the control of nature imposed by the built environment. Beauty is sometimes in the details (or the materials), but it can also be in the statement made by a public agency in partnership with artists and architects.  D13 may not appeal to everyone or evoke feelings of beauty for many, but the process and the story can be appreciated by even the most cynical of critics.

3form panels being installed at Division 13. The artwork will improve the quality of a high visibility street intersection across the street from Union Station. Credit:  The Source

3form panels being installed at Division 13. The artwork will improve the quality of a high visibility street intersection across the street from Union Station. Credit: The Source

Article by:
Will Todd, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
RNL Associate, Project Architect

Day 9: Walking the Talk of Workplace Change

Knoll, a modern furniture company for commercial and residential spaces, recently gave a presentation to one of our clients regarding work place change:

Workplace change can be difficult for employees, and fear of the unknown is common among most people. Employees should be involved in the discussions from the beginning stages to help alleviate stress and anxiety. Preparing our clients for the huge adjustment ahead of time is an important role as Interior Designers and Architects. Below is some of the research and graphics that Knoll has combined through their own work place research and case studies, as well as examples of our first-hand experience with work place change. Well, the time has come for our own office reconfiguration, and one might ask; how does it feel to be given a dose of our own medicine?

RNL Denver office at Curtis & 16th Street Mall.

RNL Denver office at Curtis & 16th Street Mall.

The RNL Denver office is located on the 16th street mall in downtown Denver, Colorado at Independence Plaza. Initially, RNL leased 43,350 square feet; however, during the recession we relinquished 14,350 square feet to the landlord and had to tighten the proverbial belt. 2016 sees RNL stronger than ever and growing. While skilled in preparing our clients for workplace change, our ability to walk the talk was recently put to test as the RNL Denver office started a significant renovation and reconfiguration of work spaces, common areas and conference rooms. In order to make room for roughly 25 new hires, and give the office a much needed facelift, as we celebrate our 60th anniversary, we needed to reduce the area of every workspace from roughly 9’-0” x 7’-0” stations to 9’-0”x 5’-0”.

Thanks to some innovative thinking by our Interiors team, we were able to do this with minimal change to our existing workstation furniture components, saving on resources, money, and minimizing the environmental impact of the project. We simply removed a return work surface and switched components around, reducing the footprint of our typical U-shaped configurations and changing them to L-shaped. The removed work surfaces then became parts and pieces of the additional desks for new hires. Most work was done during normal business hours, with minimal effect on overall office productivity.


Take The Leap

Change management requires support from leadership and communication through letting people know what’s going to happen, why changes are being made, and how they will be affected. Communication is essential to building credibility on the part of the designers, and acceptance on the part of the client. This communication has to be open, and it has to go both ways.
It is critical to ask people for input, to address concerns as they arise, to identify the influencers within employee groups through engaging them in your efforts, and to recognize that different people will adjust at different rates. - Knoll

This last concern was a significant factor in the planning of our office renovation - RNL is currently celebrating our 60th anniversary, and some employees have been with the company well over 35 years. Although we have not been in our current space the entire time, many of our employees have sat in their same desks at this location for over seven years! Recognizing that some RNL’ers would adjust at different rates than others, and some would be more open to the idea of their work spaces shrinking than others, the project was phased. With one pod of workstations reconfigured at a time, and spaced out over about 6 weeks, some RNL’ers had the chance to see the new layout, and get used to the idea before it was their turn.

Renovation of RNL conference rooms.

Renovation of RNL conference rooms.

RNL’s Baby Barker in the middle of the moving chaos.

RNL’s Baby Barker in the middle of the moving chaos.


It is important to remember that workplace change is a process, not a onetime check box event. It takes time and focus, but does not need to be scary. There is no one right way. Navigating the waters of a workplace change can be an intimidating endeavor, but by having a vision and overarching plan, you can reduce resistance to the changes your organization is implementing. - Knoll

Our reconfiguration is a phased process; it took the installers one day per pod of 8-10 workstations. After actually seeing the new work space layouts, they are surprisingly more spacious than previously thought. At the same time we are getting an “office refresh”, new lobby and conference room ceilings, updated mill work, a fresh coat of paint, and refinishing of our existing cork flooring.  We are adapting quickly, despite the hesitancy of some to bite the bullet, and take precious time away from their work day, to fully unpack and move into their new digs.



Goals of Supporting Workplace Change

  • Ease anxieties of people affected by the change.
  • Reinforce behaviors & practices desired in the new environment.
  • Resolve conflicts in habits, attitudes and organizational culture.
  • Accelerate the adjustment process & minimizing disruption to normal workflow.
  • Maximize the return of physical investments.

The water is fine.

Undergoing a workplace change can seem daunting, but by having a vision, plan, and taking simple steps to communicate and engage your employees, you can lessen opposition to the changes your organization is implementing. Supporting workplace change doesn’t need to be overly complicated or overwhelming. And the results can be very successful for not only the overall business, but also for the people within the organization. - Knoll

The overall reaction so far has been extremely positive. We can’t wait to see our fresh and updated space when it is all said and done. It was definitely an awkward feeling to be faced with shrinking workstations of our own, opposed to designing smaller workstations for our clients, but it was a well needed lesson on “practicing what you preach”. Through constant communication from the Interiors team members who coordinated the renovation, RNL has adapted quickly and shown a positive, receptive attitude towards change.

Article By:
Christie Ellender, Associate IIDA, 

Interior Designer, RNL Associate

Rachel Bannon-Godfrey, Associate AIA, LEED AP BD+C, B Corp Ambassador
Director of Sustainability, RNL Associate


Day 8: Happiness in Urban Form

Read the full post at: A Creative Reality

The notion of a city form that promotes day to day human happiness relates to the ability of a city to provide a living and/or working environment that affords people time and freedom to pursue their own free time whether in a private or social manner. This is a simple statement, but it has a number of implications for urban form. A city that affords one time is one that is connected and implies a certain degree of density. A city that allows someone to engage socially is one that contains open-ended public space for organic human interaction, a diversity of uses supporting heteroscedasticity among users, and opens the door to people functioning and participating in a long-term community. Finally, just as a city needs to provide for interaction, it needs to afford privacy - this can be through clustered uses, providing ownership of smaller scale public or semi-public spaces.

In Dominic’s  original post , he visits Vauban in Freiburg, Germany and observes the organic nature of the public realm and the lived-in quality of the residential developments.

In Dominic’s original post, he visits Vauban in Freiburg, Germany and observes the organic nature of the public realm and the lived-in quality of the residential developments.

for a city to work well, it needs to provide for human investment and support that investment.

The term human investment doesn’t mean monetary investment, though that is required, it refers to a people being able to really ‘live’ in a community, to call it their own. By focusing on self-propelled, convenient mobility strategies, a city’s amenities and infrastructure can be right-sized to the human pace of the population that city serves. What’s important about this concentration on the velocity of mobility is when you slow people down, you begin to cater toward a live-in community rather that a collection of transient auto commuters - this provides the basis for a local population and the local population will be the foundation of the city’s viability. Once an intact population emerges, the city can begin to be ‘lived in’.


Day 6: Net Zero Energy

RNL’s NREL RSF redefined the potential for achieving net zero energy (NZE) status in a commercial office building. Located in Golden, CO and completed in 2010, phase I was the largest office building in the nation to achieve net zero energy status.

The RSF is a 222,000 square foot Federal office building that is designed to be one of the largest net-zero energy buildings of its kind.

The RSF is a 222,000 square foot Federal office building that is designed to be one of the largest net-zero energy buildings of its kind.

Since the RSF we have been quietly building up our portfolio of next generation net zero energy buildings, and are currently working on two that have the potential for making waves in their respective building types. So stay tuned… While we can’t disclose the details of the projects, we can talk about the details of the process. 

Know your Numbers

In theory, any project can reach net zero energy if you buy enough photovoltaics (PV) and find somewhere on the site to put them. Is that the right way to approach it? Absolutely not. Besides, we have yet to find that unicorn of a project with an unlimited budget for on-site renewables. Instead, the key to NZE projects is reducing your energy use as much as possible first, and then making up the difference with on-site renewables. This math game requires knowing your numbers from the very start – the energy use intensity (EUI) of your design as soon as that first Sketch Up or Revit model is made, the amount of PV you will likely be able to fit on the site (and in the budget), and the EUI that you’ll need to hit to make the net zero energy equation work – and checking back in on those numbers regularly. 


While we have energy modeling consultants on most of our projects, it is important for the design team to also know not only the EUI of their design, but also how each component of the design impacts the EUI, where the biggest bang for your buck is in terms of lowering the EUI, and how even the smallest design decision impacts that number.This is especially important during the concept and schematic design phases when the bigger design moves are being made, sometimes in a matter of minutes during a charrette, and where energy consultants may not have started modeling yet. This is where our in-house energy modeling tools come in.

It’s important to know how even the smallest design decision impacts the EUI.

Have Cloud-Based Software, Will Travel (and Design)

The era of plug-ins and cloud-based software has made in-house conceptual energy modeling seamless with the design effort, and portable when traveling to client presentations or project meetings outside of the office; two key innovations. So far we have used Light Stanza, Sefaira and Fenestra Pro to get an early assessment of EUI, daylighting potential, and façade design in our projects.  The promise of every single member of the project team working off of one BIM model is still a ways out from being realized. And that’s fine. For now these software programs allow us, the architects, to know our numbers early on, update them quickly on the fly, and make more educated decisions on the drawing board. 


Day Three: Designing for One Water

 By Tony J. Thornton, AIA, LEED AP BD+C 

“This is something we simply must do…”

…Echoed Denver Water (DW), as they first sat down with RNL to review the One Water goals that the team had been contemplating jointly. One Water is a quintessential sustainability strategy for DW’s new Operations Complex Redevelopment project (OCR); a campus project Intent on exhibiting DW’s aspirations of being the “number one water utility” in the nation and a paragon of environmental stewardship within the community.

Rather than Net-Zero Water, which relies on relatively inefficient, cost exorbitant and potentially unsafe 100% onsite water collection and reuse, the aim of One Water is to be a more reliable and replicable model where: 

  • Each water source is the most appropriate for each use.
  • Potable water use is specifically avoided for non-potable purposes.
  • Potable water demand use is minimized through conservation.
  • Potable water discharge to the environment is minimized through resource recovery and reuse.
  • Efficient & safe potable supply is delivered via the local water utility, where the strictest standards for health are upheld and routinely tested by experts using the best technologies available.

Specifically for Denver Water’s OCR, this approach incorporates familiar and progressive water sustainability concepts such as:

  • Low flow and low use plumbing fixtures.
  • Low water demand, drought resistant landscaping and porous paving.
  • Large volume rainwater harvesting for irrigation through augmentation.
  • Treated clean water overflow directly to the Platte River, avoiding wasteful, redundant re-treatment through the city’s wastewater system.
  • A small scale Onsite Wastewater Treatment Facility (eco-machine) capable of reconditioning discharge grey and black water into reusable sources for toilet flushing and additional irrigation stores.
Denver Water’s future administration building is a part of their $195M  campus redevelopment .

Denver Water’s future administration building is a part of their $195M campus redevelopment.

Within Colorado, the difficulty does not lie in creating a comprehensively sustainable model, but rather working with convoluted state and local laws and water rights. Fortunately, One Water as a public utility integrated approach is also the key to solving the Colorado’s regulatory water reuse riddle. By applying intelligent processes and technology, RNL is leveraging DW’s water law knowledge, access to the regional water supply and ability to help influence future amendments to water reuse laws in order to mold One Water’s design parameters to operate completely within the existing and projected structure.  

The time is now.

As water needs will eventually outpace Colorado’s available supply, new systems for smart water management are imperative. With One Water at the heart of its underlying model, Denver Water’s OCR is poised become the catalyst for Denver’s own, citywide approach to responsible water use and reuse on a large scale.


The 12 Days of Earth… Day

If you’ve arrived at this blog, you probably know that RNL is deeply committed to holistic design solutions that address 12 environmental, social and economic priorities:

Leading up to Earth Day (April 22), various RNL pros will take a look at each of these principles in action. We’ll tell you how we’re applying them in our projects, trends we’re seeing in the architecture, design and planning industries, and what we’re doing as a company to ‘walk the walk’. It’s our own 12 Days of Earth… Day. Ok, perhaps naming holidays is not our strong suit, but we’re going with it!

Happy First Day of Earth Day, everyone!

LA Metro Cuts the Ribbon on LEED Gold Division 13

Photos by  Chang Kim & Devin J. Dilmore.

Photos by Chang Kim & Devin J. Dilmore.

Earlier today, Los Angeles Metro held a ribbon cutting for the newly completed Division 13. A $120 million bus operations & maintenance facility project sized at 540,000 square feet.

The three-level complex includes a maintenance facility with 19 service bays for the operation and maintenance of Metro's growing fleet, and 382 employee parking spaces. At capacity, the facility will be able to support approximately 525 employees and 200 buses. Sustainable design features include:

  • Rooftop and façade-mounted photovoltaic panels to generate up to 10 percent of the building's electrical needs.
  • Skylights and white-colored interiors to reflect light, reducing electricity needs.
  • Shade structures and natural ventilation to reduce energy needs.
  • An integrated 275,000-gallon cistern and system of pumps/filters to reuse rainwater for bus washing.
  • A green roof that serves as an employee amenity, and addresses storm water run-off and urban heat island effect.

"RNL believes sustainable design considers the wellbeing of the people who use a space as much as the materials and energy consumed," said Will Todd, project architect with RNL. "Using this holistic approach as a guiding principle on Division 13, RNL worked with Metro to drive building efficiencies, make smart siting choices and create a healthier work environment for Metro employees at the facility."

Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley cutting the ribbon. Photo by: Gary Leonard for Metro

Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley cutting the ribbon. Photo by: Gary Leonard for Metro

From Metro's new release:

Division 13 is a model of energy efficiency and design and will serve as an example for other transportation agencies world-wide,” said LA Metro Board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. “This necessary investment in our transportation infrastructure ensures safe and reliable travel options to meet the needs of today’s riders as well as for future generations. – The Source

The only power we ever have as designers: To Advocate

Foster's Droneport in Rawanda (Rendering: Foster+Partners)

Foster's Droneport in Rawanda (Rendering: Foster+Partners)

Norman Foster stepped into the fray of politics in the UK to combat what he called a short-sighted approach to airport expansion near London.  His message was specific, but also geared toward a much grander scale of thought - the design and investment in infrastructure is critical to our future chances of living better.  "Infrastructure," Foster says, "is not to solve the problems of today, but to anticipate the issues of future generations."  

Foster's recent work, dealing with anything from droneports in Africa to development on Mars, may sound far-fetched, but as described by Rowan Moore in his article for The Guardian UK, they begin to anticipate a new thinking on infrastructure's role in the livelihood and sustainability of our cities. Even though Foster see's his only power as an architect being as an advocate for change,  these explorations into solving the future's problems are perhaps among the best uses of the design community's creative energies.  

Don’t Just Think About Design, Feel It

Our reaction to our environment can be hard to quantify at times, but it may be that we should be doing less counting and more feeling. This is no different than the subtlety with which we interpret our own non-verbal communication. Since humans can interpret meaning in millimeter differences of facial expressions and since we have an innate sense of finding human characteristics in almost everything we see - from art to inanimate objects - there is a psychological relationship between the form of what we design and the meaning people derive from it.

In his book, "The Architecture of Happiness", Alain DeBotton writes about a psychologist’s study where respondents use a simple line drawing to describe a happy relationship and then a relationship filled with tension, argument and anger. Results were categorical - happy relationships are bubbly clouds, angry ones are jagged snarls. So what does this tell us? It is our non-verbal limbic brain - the part that deals with our gut or our emotion - speaking. Design, speaks in this way as well.

In a typical design process, we spend a significant amount of time wrestling with the logic of our decision making, pursuing the illusive modern architectural goal of creating rationalized "machines for living". This is the practice we have grown accustomed to in the world of big data. We humans are comfortable in that realm because we use our neocortex for such reasoning and data correlation, but if we forget to engage the silent emotive portion of our brain in the process, we will miss the most human part of design’s impact.

if we forget to engage the silent emotive portion of our brain in the process, we will miss the most human part of design’s impact.

While the limbic brain is an older place evolutionarily in our mind, it has deep roots in our psychological sense of wellbeing, our sense of place and our connection to our environment. It’s no coincidence that Alzheimer’s disease causes damage to the limbic brain. Another more rare condition, Kluver-Bucy syndrome is related to damage in the limbic brain and can be characterized by an inability to recognize objects or faces. In design, this subtle center of abstract recognition cannot be forgotten amid the logic and data being amassed to justify our work to our more evolved neocortical minds.

Design has a base appeal to our gut that is immeasurable. Our ability to listen to that call with the rigor that we dig for logical justification can be every bit as important as finding hard metrics. When we describe a design as dynamic or aggressive, quiet or subdued, we show a recognition of it’s limbic appeal and open a window into the feel of the environment we create. This is not unlike the way a grin, smirk or frown may inform our next few words in a conversation. Humans are a remarkable blend of logic and instinct and our design should be informed by the context of both.

Calling All Design 2 Thrivers

Innovation starts with engagement.

We design spaces and places that help people and communities thrive, using the 12 Design for One Earth principles as our framework.

Why? Because we care. We also listen. So send us your suggestions, thoughts, comments.

  • Read an article that inspired you? Send us the link and we’ll post it.
  • Curious about a new technology of trend? Tell us, and we’ll find some resources about it.
  • Wrote a post, article, essay, haiku, song? Let us share it.