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How Genentech fuses green building and energy science

The biotech giant's new Silicon Valley campus leveraged the expertise of nearby Lawrence Berkeley Lab to optimize for both energy efficiency and talent attraction.

Genentech didn't set out to build just any old Silicon Valley open office when it undertook construction of a new, LEED Gold-certified corporate campus in South San Francisco, which sprawls over a quarter of a million square feet.

With some 10,000 employees housed on this campus, Genentech's corporate headquarters is also the largest biotech-manufacturing site in the world, according to CEO Ian Clark.

A May 21 ribbon cutting for the new 255,000-square-foot facility underscored the concurrent economic, technological and environmental implications of the project, which reflects dual efforts by Genentech and energy efficiency experts at the nearby Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

Genentech Lawrence Berkeley Lab energy efficiency green building
“It’s all about investing and growing and adding jobs in California,” Clark said, speaking from the new building’s front steps.

The new building is designed above all for occupant happiness, ideally to help improve employee retention and draw top talent as the company expands. The new "Building 35" facility is designed to be 29 percent more energy-efficient than a standard office building, thanks in large part to efficiency gains suggested by experts at the neighboring Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

Still, after hailing the Genentech campus as the birthplace of biotechnology, politicians who turned out for the opening of the building en masse seemed most interested in courting the company for its high-tech jobs and economic impact.

“The life sciences started here, but we have to be competitive with other states who are trying to lure our companies away,” said California state Sen. Jerry Hill.

While California Gov. Jerry Brown had an oil spill on his mind — having just come from signing an order declaring a state of emergency after a pipeline broke along Santa Barbara’s coastline — he, too, reflected on the importance of the growth of the state's biotech sector. 

“Things are changing, and I’m part of that change — in fact, I’m changing too quickly,” he quipped, peering out from beneath bushy grey eyebrows. “This is a global company, and we’re a global state."

Greening a building from the inside out

Genentech followed guidelines for non-toxic materials and product selection from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Building Health Initiative.

Operable windows up high bring in fresh air and automated shades cut glare from the sea of glass providing inspiring views of San Francisco Bay. Small round sensors in the upper right hand corner of the windows measure the light coming to the rooms and a control system takes that data and adjusts the overhead lights accordingly.

Optimal lighting and shading is one of the main components of the building tested at Lawrence Berkeley’s FLEXLAB, which Genentech enlisted to help with the design process. FLEXLAB is a test bed that assesses and optimizes building operation under real-world conditions.

The research facility even measured how close people could sit next to the window before experiencing glare.  Automatic shades and external fins imprinted with an abstract DNA pattern keep the glare out but also help with energy savings.

FLEXLAB was just coming online and didn’t get involved in the Genentech project until most of the building decisions had already been made, according to a FLEXLAB case study of the building, which states:

“Bringing the FLEXLAB team on board earlier in the building planning process would unlock even greater energy savings.”

The Genentech building was the first building to undergo testing at FLEXLAB since the new cutting-edge research facility opened last summer.

While every aspect of the design and technology in Building 35 is off the shelf, the space is innovative when it comes to incorporating principles of collaboration, mobility and flexibility.

Employees are grouped in areas they call neighborhoods, and they may move around and work in many communal lounge areas they call living rooms with casual seating and flat screen TVs for collaborating or catching some sports on a break.

At the building’s center a huge seven-story glass atrium allows staff members to see their colleagues on all floors across an interior courtyard, providing a sense of connection and transparency. Glass conference rooms seem to float in the building’s core space.

The flexible, airy work environment represents “the intersection of well-being, collaboration and choice,” commented Genentech VP of Site Services Carla Boragno.

Getting rid of offices and designing for a “mobility pattern” also saved Genentech 30 percent in costs, according to Ann Bamesberger, the company’s director of workplace effectiveness.

“Sharing makes all the difference,” she said.

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