Agriculture is the dominating influence in Yakima, where good, volcanic soil, sunny days, and irrigation from Yakima River support the area’s many fruit orchards. Washington Fruit, family-owned and operated since 1916, grows, packs, and ships premium fruit products from the northwest throughout the world. The company’s facilities occupy ninety acres of industrial land, including some of the most advanced sorting and packing equipment in existence. The project site is a flat, industrial riverbed bordered by a major freeway. Concrete tilt-up boxes house the fruit processing facilities that dominate the area, which are surrounded by acres of pavement, trucks, and refrigeration equipment. Company leaders desired a new office and headquarters that would serve as a refuge from the industrial agribusiness landscape. They asked for warmer materials, non-boxlike forms, protection from the freeway, and minimal visible equipment or devices. Light and acoustics were high priorities. The approach for the new office was to create an inwardly focused oasis among the sea of concrete and industry. The L-shaped building nestles into the landscape, wrapped by earthen berms and board-formed concrete site walls. Views from the building are directed upward toward the basalt hills while the foreground of freeways and industrial agribusiness are obscured. At the heart of the place is a landscaped courtyard towards which most of the project’s occupied spaces are oriented. Materials and structure, building layout, and integration with the natural setting are all part of the complete experience a refuge tied to local agricultural roots. Orchard cloths are repurposed to cover the parking, decreasing heat gain and creating a unique entry experience. A notch in the berm provides access from parking to the courtyard, where a boardwalk guides visitors into the building. The view from this approach is of the fully-glazed façade, punctuated by a series of wood columns that march across the building in regular intervals. The boardwalk leads to an off-set building entry, which is formed as a wood-wrapped passageway inserted into the glazing. The main space is an open-plan office looking out onto the courtyard. Private offices are pulled to the south wall, while conference spaces and back-of-house functions are set in low, wood-clad boxes. The eighteen-foot scissored glulam structural columns are pulled to the outside, enabling the 175-foot interior volume to be column-free. Topped with sixty-eight-foot exposed truss girders, the main space reaches twenty feet at its peak. Interior furnishing are low, and finishes terminate well below the ceiling, reinforcing the open feeling of the structure. The sales office is housed in the short arm of the L-shaped building, isolating noise and enhancing privacy for its users. A separately enclosed structure connected to the sales office by exposed structure and a small courtyard houses the lunchroom. This space, with a kitchen and table to seat thirty, provides a gathering space for weekly meals when farmers from the orchards gather with office workers. Throughout the building, a raised floor system which accommodates almost all the mechanical and electrical equipment frees the workplace of clutter, while fabric-covered acoustical material muffles excessive noise. Electric lighting is either obscured or custom elements, made to be part of the architecture. As a final touch, all private office desks and conference room tables were designed by the architects to match the building and handcrafted by a local furniture maker. Taking its cue from an aging barn that the client had identified as a favorite, the materiality seeks to capture the essence of a utilitarian agricultural aesthetic. The barn’s diagonal structural members were exposed, and the remaining wood siding was deeply weathered. This striking image of a barn in a state of decay as nature reclaims it provided a point of departure for the new building. In some places, the roof falls away, leaving bare structure. In others, grassy meadows take over the rooftop, merging earth berms with building. The outer shell is clad in reclaimed local barnwood with a weathering steel roof. The diagonal structure and the slope, tilt, and twist of the columns express the structural forces acting within them. This simple exposed structure along with the limited material palette and natural patina merges rural vernacular with an equally spare contemporary aesthetic. Sunlight and heat were also major guiding factors for building form. The main sustainability strategy involved utilizing site planning to minimize heat gain and the need for electric lighting. The best solution was to orient much of the glazing north and some east, with back-of-house program kept to the west edge to block the low west sun. The resulting “L” plan orients views to the north through the floor-to-ceiling window wall, visually extending the interior space into the courtyard. Yakima averages 290 sunny days annually, so this north-facing glazing almost eliminates the need for electric lighting without risk of overheating. To balance this, south-facing clerestory brings in controlled daylight over the bar of private offices, which are lit from eave-shaded south windows. Deciduous trees are densely planted in front of south-facing windows as a natural filter for strong summer sunlight. These site-responsive daylighting and shading choices, along with above-code glazing and mechanical systems selections, reduces the need for air conditioning, a major energy sink throughout Eastern Washington. At all scales, the building is curated to create a peaceful and comfortable work environment. The building immerses its occupants in a pure design concept imbued with meaning by the deep agricultural roots in both company and setting.
Graham Baba Architects is an award-winning, Seattle-based architecture firm recognized for the successful place-making of commercial, residential, and cultural spaces. Whether enlivening an urban community or creating a quiet refuge, we strive to design venues that resonate with memory and a sense of discovery. The firm believes every project—from adaptive reuse of existing buildings to new construction—provides an opportunity to reveal and celebrate authentic materials in their natural state. Graham Baba’s work is found across the Pacific Northwest and in California and Wisconsin. Among the firm’s notable projects are Melrose Market, Kolstrand Building, and 325 Westlake in Seattle and Pybus Market in Wenatchee, Washington. Recent and current projects include the studio for artist Lino Tagliapietra in Seattle; the Pebble Beach Residence in Pebble Beach, California; the Lake Washington Residence on Mercer Island, Washington; and the Kenmore Community Building in Kenmore, Washington.
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