Keeping Companies Downtown
The development and design strategy that inspired genetics testing company 23andMe’s transit-oriented campus.
March, 2018: Approvals are rolling in for 23andMe’s personal genetic testing kits, including a first-of-its-kind FDA approval for an at-home testing for cancer risk. 23andMe’s headquarters is bustling with creative, R&D, and logistics teams who love the downtown location for its many coffee spots and the building for its flexible work spaces, sumptuous green roof deck, and car-free commute.
Looking at the 899 West Evelyn headquarters now, it’s hard to imagine the underutilized, polluted site it once was at the start of the downhill slide into the Great Recession. Many of his peers would have considered developer Dan Minkoff a bit crazy to pursue a “spec” office building here and bet on possibility instead of hunkering down for hard times with the rest of humanity. But with a CalTrain station a mere 200 meters away, Mountain View’s best restaurants and cafés literally around the corner, and talk of future growth along the 237 corridor, Minkoff saw an opportunity for a great office project.
Despite the downturn, he got to work with brick to design a LEED Gold infill project with tremendous versatility for single occupants or multiple tenants and an eye toward recession-proofing his investment. What we created was a flexible class A office building, a more robust downtown workforce and the right building at the right time to keep 23andMe in Mountain View—a win for the company and the City.
Recipe for success: start with the right ingredients
Even with its challenges 899 West Evelyn was an ideal site for transit-oriented infill, with housing to the west, and Castro street with its bustling restaurants and retail stores to the east—all connected by CalTrain and a small local park. Minkoff partnered with an adjacent landowner to expand the project to the west end of the block and maximize value for a new office building. The final hurdle was developing a flexible design that added to the City of Mountain View’s identity and allowed the city—dominated by mega companies outside the downtown—to attract companies of varying types and sizes to its core.
Seventy five percent of 23andMe’s staff commute by train and many others bike to work, including the company’s founder. Only a few visitors take advantage the “23” minute parking meters on West Evelyn.
Recipe for success: go green
“We are building in obsolescence if we are building less than LEED Gold.” Looking to the tenant(s) of the future, Minkoff did something rather unusual for a speculative developer at the time; he invested up front in an energy efficient, sustainable office building with a target of LEED Gold or better. A green building would attract tenants with an eco-friendly value system and add to employee pride. The design maximizes natural light with an innovative wood louver system on the main north facade that offers floor-to-ceiling views out while filtering the sun’s most intense rays. Operable windows are featured throughout, and the entire project features low voc, locally sourced, and recycled materials wherever possible.
The three faces of Evelyn: While the central expressway-facing north side of the site allowed for a more blank canvas for the building’s own future-focused identity, the west and east edges needed to address the adjacent housing and existing retail buildings.
Recipe for success: design for the district—and the future
Downtown Mountain View was naturally protective of its eclectic charm and hoped the project would add to its sense of place. Minkoff envisioned a building that attracts forward-thinking companies with an identity that would reach into the future. Brick devised a system of facades that put the most contemporary design features on West Evelyn and accented the east and west facades with natural stone to graciously address the building’s neighbors and the district as a whole. The curtain wall on the north facade was engineered to reduce noise and vibration from passing trains. A cutting edge wood louver system that wraps around the building’s edges from the main facade was key to city approvals as well as the building’s sustainability goals.
The east and west facades both feature gracious stone work with large openings for natural light. The east facade’s deep recesses meet fire code, but also reduce solar heat gain.
warm and welcoming wood
Warm wood louvers contained within the glazing on the main facade maximize light and minimize heat gain. They were also key to garnering city approvals and a LEED Gold rating.
Recipe for success: take it over the top
While the downtown is a great place for a coffee, it lacked green space with only one lackluster park near CalTrain. Brick devised a living green roof to bring the outdoors to the building and attract Nuance, Minkoff’s master tenant—but before anyone could party on the roof, there was serious planning (and planting!) to do.
With the rest of the building designed, adding the green roof required a bit of extra height to accommodate the elevator and create sloped drains. The new design incorporated varying soil depths for plants and trees, as well as walkways and seating areas at differing heights throughout the space. A custom trellis allows employees to work outside with a laptop year-round without frustrating glare from the sun. Because the previously-specified elevator’s capacity dictated maximum occupancy for the roof, brick designed varied spaces and nodes of activity to limit the number of people in any one place, making the roof deck a more interesting place to be.
899 West Evelyn’s special recipe not only attracted a single long-term tenant (Nuance), the project’s convenience to transit and cafés, natural light, fresh air and future possibilities inspired Nuance to sublease to current tenant 23andMe at a premium, allowing the genetics testing company to find a new home in downtown Mountain View just when they needed it most, and with all the amenities their employees require to deliver the future of medical diagnostics right to your door.