The Conference Center at PPIC architecturally conveys the organization’s ideals of openness and informed discussion on the public policy issues faced by the State. Main elements of the project are the “Forum” - an assembly venue and the “Salon” – a reception and a soft meeting area.
The circular plan of the Forum, in geometry, epitomizes the Institute’s non-partisan ethos. Although the circle symbolically provides the perfect architectural metaphor for “no corners”, it presents the challenge of overcoming the corresponding focus of sound waves towards the center of the space – an acoustical problem. The architect’s solution, refined with an acoustician, is a system of sculpted wall “fins”, circumscribing the room’s perimeter to create an acoustically tailored surface that disperses sound waves in random directions. Consequently, the Forum’s form and visual design explicitly express the acoustical resolution for a space which depends upon good acoustics to serve its programmatically-versatile purpose.
▪ Relative to the client’s programmatic wish-list, the available space was tight, the ceiling lower than ideal, exacerbated by existing ductwork that served the rest of the building. Further, major structural columns limited the possible layout options for a meeting space, which ideally requires unobstructed sightlines.
▪ The Bechtel Conference Center is a result of a unique and close collaboration between the architect, the acoustical engineer, the contractor, and the fabricators -- a negotiation among design, context and technology.
▪ Despite careful mechanisms in place for the layout and coordination of the wall-fins, the size and shape of the room meant that even minute rotational errors (even skewing due to internal humidity) could cause displacements by several inches at the perimeter.
▪ With the PPIC’s environmental advocacy in mind, significant efforts were made in the areas of material use, reuse, energy-efficiency, and innovation, which together helped the Conference Center achieve its Title 24 Efficiency goals and LEED Gold certification.
One of the foremost policy organizations in the state, the client for the project is the Public Policy Institute of California, a think tank dedicated to impartial and non-partisan research that informs the public policy decisions of the State. It was important that their new conference center communicate these ideals of openness and informed discussion, and present a forward-thinking image appropriate to an institution dedicated to issues of the future. The forms and materials employed in the Conference Center reflect the inviting and open quality sought in the institution’s discourse, while the modern aesthetic fosters an environment fitting for dialogues on contemporary policy issues. Inspired by King Arthur and his mythical round-table, the Forum’s circular plan makes for an apt geometric metaphor for the non-partisan center.
Relative to the programmatic wish-list, the available space was tight, the ceiling lower than ideal, exacerbated by existing ductwork that served the rest of the building. Major structural columns limited the possible layout options for a meeting-space, which ideally requires unobstructed sightlines. And, although the circle symbolically provides the perfect architectural metaphor for “no-corners”, it presented the challenge of overcoming the corresponding focus of sound waves towards the center of the space – an acoustical problem. The architect’s solution, refined with an acoustician, is a system of sculpted wall “fins”, circumscribing the room’s perimeter to create an acoustically-tailored surface that disperses sound waves in random directions.
The round Forum, enhanced by the riveted hot-rolled steel-clad exterior, translates into the literal embodiment of a think “tank”, simultaneously resolving several challenges. Conceptually, the circular plan expresses the institute’s commitment to providing an environment for discourse, where all positions in the room provide equal footing. Architecturally, the “tank” promotes a better spatial flow through the facility, as the circular plan fits comfortably among the existing structural columns. The versatility of the spatial geometry allows for various configurations including auditorium-style seating, classroom-style seating, open-U and square-table setups, table-rounds for dinner or more formal occasions, as well as a “theater-in-the-round” setup within. A series of sculpted plywood wall-fins, circumscribing the room, create an irregular and acoustically-tailored surface. Each fin in the Forum interior is uniquely shaped, but is only slightly different in terms of the side-profile from its adjacent neighbors, creating an undulating three-dimensional surface. Further, the fin-to-fin spacing is variable. Together, the spacing between the fins and their geometries distribute sound waves appropriately to achieve not merely the desired sonic performance, but a unique visual expression.
The space outside of the main Forum is utilized as a less formal meeting Salon, taking advantage of views of the adjacent redwood park, ideal for a flexible, informal gathering area for receptions, luncheons and meetings. The Salon is designed to contrast to the Forum’s “inner-sanctum” quality. The wood ceiling slats and light fixtures radiate in a pattern to accentuate the geometry of the Forum, and visually connect the two distinctive geometries. The Salon serves as a multi-purpose activity space for the center and, like the Forum, is supported by a green room for guest speakers, a servery and storage space.
The project is a result of a close collaboration among the architects, acoustical experts and fabricators. The custom-designed wooden fins are CNC-milled, and elements like blind doors, electrical outlets and A/V equipment are precisely synchronized to fit in slots between them. To coordinate the layout and installation of the fin system, computer-generated drawings and dimensions were provided by the design team to be strictly coordinated with CNC systems by the fabricators. Full-size templates were produced by the construction team to guide the positioning of the fins within the conference space. Despite careful mechanisms in place, the size and shape of the room meant that even minute rotational errors could cause displacements by several inches at the perimeter. The tolerances were such that even humidity inside the room could skew the dimensions, and extreme care and frequent on-site consultations were required to ensure that the system was aligned accurately. Surfaces behind and between the fins are lined with either an absorbent or reflective acoustic substrate, whose arrangement is coordinated by the architects in consultation with acoustical engineers to create variation and counteract the natural tendencies of sound waves, simultaneously. Two bespoke lecterns are an aesthetic extension of the interior architecture, and are customized for PPIC’s technical requirements.
In addition to the unusual fabrication techniques involved, the project also uses a variety of uncommon material treatments, including hot-rolled steel on the exterior of the central forum, end-grain for block flooring in the salon, and salvaged redwood paneling in the green-rooms. The designers gave careful attention to detailing and craftsmanship, extending even to the rivets in the exterior steel-cladding of the conference room, which are hand-treated with a heat torch to create chromatic variation in the material's surface.
SUSTAINABLE DESIGN STRATEGIES:
With the PPIC’s environmental advocacy in mind, significant efforts were made towards LEED Certification and Title 24 energy-efficiency goals. The project places emphasis on conserving water and energy, using 100% green power, specifying environmentally friendly building materials, and diverting construction waste. Among the credits earned towards LEED Gold Certification were points resulting from the use of salvaged redwood paneling, low-VOC paints and carpeting, and energy efficient lighting and hardware. These goals were met through the following measures:
▪ High efficiency hydronic heat pumps that draw from geothermal technology.
▪ Computer-based control system for control and monitor building systems’ performance.
▪ Use of Energy Star rated equipment throughout the facility.
Further, the project team made every effort possible to reduce the project’s energy consumption. By installing metering equipment to monitor their energy usage, the Conference Center will be able to establish a baseline of the energy consumption and make adjustments as needed.