when designing their “arbor” workplace for the westbank campus, studio gang looked back at the green meadows that long ago defined the landscape of san jose. the picturesque, overgrown nature of the valley of santa clara is a paradise that has been lost to an overgrown urban condition. Now the city is entering a new era of development that understands and celebrates the ecological past in order to achieve a sustainable and equally gratifying future. characterized by its modular wooden structure and developed in partnership with urban community, peterson and optrust, ‘arbor’ connects the urban workspace with nature as a contemporary and urban tree fortress and removes the barriers between sunlight, flora and the office environment. designboom spoke to jeanne gang about the urban redesign by san jose and the effects of performative timber construction.
Images courtesy of Studio Gang | made of aesthetics
Studio gang’s design for Arbor resulted from the team’s search for a campus workplace in the West Bank full of nature, combined with the desire to achieve an unprecedented level of sustainability. Buildings are responsible for almost 30% of global CO2 emissions, 90% of which are attributed to gray carbon in building materials. The performative and sustainable spirit of arbor is characterized by two strategies in two interconnected buildings – the adaptive reuse of the existing six-story Davidson building and a new fourteen-story solid wood construction. As the team researches to achieve the desired level of performance, the form, materiality and programming of Arbor take shape.
The arbor of the studio corridor for the West Bank campus will reconnect its residents with nature by offering a spectrum of environments for working and socializing – Outside in the sun or in the shade, inside with the window wall closed or partially open, together with colleagues in the conference or alone in focus. The project will break up the Silicon Valley office park mentality and replace isolation through connectedness and energy consumption through environmental awareness. The new building is connected to the Davidson building, built in 1984, through the area and a roof bridge. With the conversion of the existing building, arbor is celebrating the idea of reuse instead of demolition. the team uses the volume of the building to create new outdoor spaces for its residents.
The 14-story solid wood “Arbor” by studio gang emulates the spirit of work in a tree fortress with a minimal carbon footprint. Compared to conventional constructions such as concrete or steel, the space requirement is reduced by 35%. The design consists of several modular wooden axes stacked on top of each other. The tactile wood structure becomes a terraced frame for vertical ravines and green spaces, which allows the optimal amount of light, air and shadow in and out of the building. Green roofs, green walls and green trellises meanwhile serve to filter the air, reduce the urban heat island effect and reduce the energy consumption for active cooling.
DB (designboom): What are the challenges when designing a temporary structure of this size? do you think this will happen more often in the future?
JG (jeans band): in the past we have built a lot of wooden structures. When you think of the old loft buildings all over Chicago, New York, which were one hundred percent wood, they really lasted a long time. many of them are still in use today. It is not new to build with wood and lumber. But today, of course, products are also manufactured whose structural properties are really known and tried and tested.
some of the main challenges are availability. The manufacture of these products is currently not in line with demand. The result is you end up shipping from further away, which isn’t great either. Number two are the codes. we had wooden structures for a long time, then came steel and concrete. So the codes changed and made it harder and harder to produce wood. so this is another challenge. and third, maybe it’s just the unfamiliarity of the industry. That’s just something that is always an obstacle when people want something that seems new. but i think all of this is surmountable.
JG (continued): aAnd not only that – I think there is huge potential for places like in the Midwest where the steel industry has been lost. they are not yet practicing sustainable forestry, but it is entirely possible. So it could be a whole new industry helping places that other industries have lost.
DB: Can you talk about converting San Jose to the West Bank campus? The city is expected to grow quite quickly in the future. Are there any conditions that you would like to avoid with the Westbank Campus as a whole?
JG: Many of these fast growing places are doing the most sensible things like putting up extra cars because there is no resident population yet. but here, on the contrary, I think that the attention is paid to the pedestrian zone and the city is pedestrian and accessible and pleasant for pedestrians, cyclists and other means of transport, not just not just cars. Cars will still be there, but it’s just a matter of planning. We want to plan this growth intelligently so that it looks to a low-carbon future with less reliance on automobiles.
DB: Is this being helped by the pressure on the transportation infrastructure connecting San Jose to San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area?
JG: Yes exactly. This is how you get to the location and make sure that the city grows fairly and is not crooked. To achieve this, the availability of housing at all affordable levels must be taken into account.
DB: In the USA, most of the urban density is limited to a few large cities – especially New York, LA, San Francisco. While these cities are some of the most expensive places to live, many young people seem reluctant to move to some of these smaller towns in the middle of the country. Do you think we should strive to make these other cities more attractive, and how can architects help to achieve that?
JG: Well, the reason people flock to the big cities is, I think, because it’s always been the place where ideas and social connections came about. and that also applies to these big cities. but I see a trend of the smaller, second level (laughs), in the smaller cities people are pulling back. and then I think that’s more of an option after the pandemic because there are more opportunities to work from these cities. People still want to live around other people and have social connections. but then there is the possibility of their affordability, a better quality of life for people who want to move to some of the smaller cities.
JG (continued): We’re also currently working on a major riverside map for the city in Memphis. and I’ve just seen a lot of investment in this relatively small town. and it’s in the midwest, but people are moving back to this city as it invests in public space and greening the city and so on. So I think there is a trend that will move more and more towards the cities.
a place like san jose is really exciting because of the presence of the big technology companies. But care must also be taken – and that is with the West Bank project – the creation of viable jobs, the creation of dwellings that are places where one would want to live and work in such a city and not just in the big centers like San Franciscofranc. because you have close access to nature and a city that is worth living in. So I think the West Bank’s investment in this location will really make it a rival to some of the bigger cities.
DB: in the past you have spoken about urban sprawl and density. Can you talk about the state of San Jose right now? would I say it’s more of a sprawling city right now?
JG: it is really designed around cars and parking lots. originally san jose was like this beautiful orchard and idyllic landscape. then it developed right at the time when cars dominated everything, so a lot of highways were built and it just spread out. So the point is to put it in a walkable environment where we don’t have to rely on the car as much.
That’s one of the things that we really focus on. How do you design the transition – to accommodate cars in the beginning because people have to go there. But then, when the city develops with housing projects and investments in public space and people move there, you can reduce this parking load. So you need to build buildings that are reversible so that they might start out as a parking lot and then move over to a different type of workplace or something like that over time. That too is an interesting development, think about the West Bank.
DB: Would you expect San Jose to become a little more like New York, where people don’t even necessarily own cars?
JG: Yes, even with more shared trips, you don’t have to park your own car as much. Each parking garage takes up a lot of space and reduces the possibility of urban liveliness. So we worked on activating the ground floor and thinking about parking as more of a temporary use that will eventually wear off.
Project title: Arbor for West Bank Campus
Architecture, interior design: Jeanne Gang / Studio Gang Architects
Location: San Jose, California
Developer: West Bank, Borough, Peterson and OPtrust
Landscape architecture: Elysian landscapes
Sustainability consultant: atelier 10, reshaping strategies
Visualizations: Aesthetics, courtesy of Studio Gang