Packard Foundation Opens Sustainable & Stunning HQ

The LEED Platinum-certified headquarters for the international grant-making foundation is both beautiful and technologically smart. Now, can it change humans' behavior?


After a year and a half of construction, the formally opened its new headquarters Friday—a stunning cedar-and-copper-clad showcase to demonstrate how sustainability is possible.

It is replete with touches from the past that gives it firm anchor, and embraces full-on, the technology that can bring a better future. The new 49,000-square foot building is designed for Net-Zero, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification. As such, that means it will generate as much energy as it uses.

Platinum is the highest ranking in the LEED green building rating system. 

The 48-year-old Packard Foundation wanted to show how serious it is about “walking its talk,” said Carol Larson, the foundation’s president and CEO

The foundation is known for its mission of environmental restoration and protection, part of four program areas in which it makes grants. The other three are population and reproductive health, children, and the local community.

“In building our new headquarters to the highest standards of sustainability, and in a way that others can replicate, the Packard Foundation has taken the extra steps necessary to truly live its core values and mission,” Larson said.

“We hope to inspire others with the possibility of a better future.” She said added that it was designed to be able to replicate anywhere in the country, to provide a model for those looking toward more sustainable building practices.

The two office wings—named “Woodlands” and “Grasslands,” as a touchstone from the Packard ranch—are united by a central courtyard that also functions as informal gathering space and focal point.

The foundation said its extra steps included:

  • Drastically reducing use of energy by installing solar panels that offset 100 percent of the building’s energy consumption. They've also reduced water consumption by using innovative gutters, toilets and irrigation systems for a projected 40 percent reduction. The building is designed to capture rainwater from its roofs to two 10,000-gallon storage tanks below.
  • Landscaping the grounds with 90 percent native plants, and others that are drought-tolerant. Innovative use of “rain gardens” that channel runoff from the street filter water rather than allowing it to go into storm drains and into the bay.
  • Using Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood to provide incentives for those who harvest wood with consideration for human rights, land usage, environmental impact and conservation.
  • Creating a mindful culture among its 120 employees by providing dashboards so they can monitor their actions in real time the energy use of charging devices and printing, for example.
  • Setting an example by which others can also construct their environmentally sustainable building. The Foundation estimates it would cost $477 per square foot to employ the environmentally friendly technologies used in the building.

Even before construction began, the Packard Foundation made sure they considered the environmental impact throughout. In deconstructing the existing buildings in 2010, they salvaged 95 percent of the structures. The building was designed with “aggressive reductions” in plug loads.

Mike Humphrey, project executive for the construction company, DPR, said the project was “anything but traditional,” including “some of the most advanced and sufficient systems available today.” He praised the Packard Foundation for its commitment to stick to its vision even through the financial crisis.

The building’s energy usage can be monitored online at the foundation’s website, Larson said, so anyone from the public, not just the organization’s employees and board can see how well they are doing and how they can make adjustments, she said. Advanced monitors provide feedback that allow workers to make decisions about what windows could be opened to adjust temperature effectively, for example. 

Susan Packard Orr, chairman of the foundation board, and the daughter of David and Lucile Packard, talked about how the foundation had began in the family home on Taaffe Road in 1964, then moved to "a little brick building" in town, and then finally to the longtime home at 300 Second Street that her mother loved. As the organization grew, however, its program staff was spread across two buildings in Los Altos. Now all four programs will be housed under one roof. The investment staff will be housed in the old building.

"My parents cared deeply about the environment and about empowering individuals to do their best work, "Packard Orr said. "Today the Foundation that sustains my parents' work celebrates their memory by opening a new headquarters that support those values."

The building makes use of the California climate, with the familiar easy passage between indoor and outdoor, said Brad Jacobson, project manager and a senior associate of San Francisco-based architecture firm EHDD, which also designed the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Once they met at the Packard home in Los Altos Hills, which is used for retreats, Jacobson said they understood how integral that element should be to the new building.  

There are other, serendipitous touches. The interior doors are made from eucalyptus that was felled during the relocation of Doyle Drive that leads to the Golden Gate Bridge on the San Francisco side. The architects came across the wood when they were at the veneer shop in Oakland. Reusing the eucalyptus, an introduced species now so prevalent across the California landscape, was a happy accident of circumstance, said architect Marc L’Italien, principal at EHDD.

The south western side of the building uses wide eaves to shade the windows from the sun, and light sensitive shades automatically move up or down to keep sun from directly shining into the building. This brings natural light into the building, but without the heat and glare of direct sunlight. The northeastern side does not have such overhangs and takes advantage of the morning sun, he said. There is a “living roof “ on one side where the board room is, planted with succulents and other plants that serve to filter water. From the windows of the board room, participants can look directly across the street to the windows of the board room of the old Packard headquarters on 300 Second Street—another anchor to the past that informs its mission and goals.

Packard Orr said her parents would be “fascinated and delighted at what we’ve achieved here in Los Altos—bringing together technology and design in a beautiful space that is good for the environment and good for the people who live here.”

For more pictures beyond this article, go to www.packard.org

See also, for observations specifically from the "green" perspective.

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mark morris July 01, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Will there be an "open house" day for public viewing?
L.A. Chung July 01, 2012 at 07:35 PM
@MarkMorris, I will check with the Packard Foundation. GreenTown Los Altos is asking the Foundation for a group tour for its members (now, there's an incentive to join!)


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