Menlo Park’s Sand Hill Road is famously home to many venture capital firms—the economic engines that power California’s Silicon Valley and the Bay Area by providing funding for startup companies. In keeping with the area’s carefully cultivated unpretentiousness, all that can be seen from the road are wooded foothills and some nondescript buildings. However, for one of the latest buildings to be constructed on this rarefied stretch of real estate, appearances are deceiving. From the outside, this new building looks like a large house with a backyard; on the inside, it’s a dynamic workspace for a major venture capital firm with 50 employees. Designed by Paul Murdoch Architects, the project has received a 2014 AIA Institute Honor Award for Interior Architecture.
Originally, the client (who prefers to remain anonymous) wanted to implement prefab construction on the tight infill site, in part to minimize disruption to the surrounding residential neighborhood. He asked celebrated California architect Ray Kappe, who had designed a line of residences for LivingHomes—a prefab modular home builder based in Santa Monica—to come up with an office configuration. But it soon became apparent that the prefab approach would not produce the finely detailed, seamless spaces that the client was seeking. Paul Murdoch Architects, which had designed the client’s own home previously, was brought in to flesh out the office concept. Based in Beverly Hills, Murdoch has an impressive body of academic and civic work that includes the Flight 93 National Memorial in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Prefab-inspired building design
The office, certified LEED Silver, captures the essence of the Kappe design, with delicate cedar screens and trellis overhangs that soften a minimalist box. “We wanted to fit into the modernist tradition of the Bay Area, which is of a certain era, but refresh it and make it current,” Murdoch says. In back, the two-story, 12,500-square-foot office appears to the neighbors as a terraced garden. The roof of the whole building is covered in sedum; the second story is set back and looks onto a roof terrace planted with grass; and the ground floor opens onto a spacious, landscaped backyard that makes up about 40 percent of the site footprint. Below the yard and building is an underground garage that can house 50 cars, with an automated car-lift system to stack them two-deep. Real estate here is too precious to waste on surface parking.
Murdoch’s design incorporates 12-foot-by-60-foot steel modules that could be trucked to the site, gaining some of the efficiencies of prefab. As a result, the support columns for the building are smaller and more tightly spaced than those in a typical commercial building, augmenting its residential feel. He also placed demountable walls wherever a shear wall was not required, allowing the floor plan to be reconfigured easily to provide incubator space for startups if the need arises. A prominent outdoor staircase along the front of the building also gives the client the option of leasing the second floor separately.
Material palette takes cues from nature, with a twist
The interior finishes and wide expanses of glass connect the building with the surrounding nature. Paneling of straight-grained fir, wire-brushed to heighten its seersucker-like texture, has an effect that is both raw and refined. Custom furnishings by Creative Wood Products of Oakland include a curved reception desk and a series of open workstations, also made of wire-brushed fir. Overhead, the architects specified a combination of panelized solutions from Ceilings Plus: The Illusions system of white perforated panels provides acoustic control and conceals all the mechanicals, while the wood-veneered aluminum Barz linear ceiling system provides a continuation of the trellises on the exterior.
Taking its cues from the warm tones of the wood, the flooring is beige integral colored concrete.To create an exciting juxtaposition to the soothing neutrals, the designers introduced a burst of bright color. “If the building was just all wood and glass, it would be a little too low-key and soft,” Murdoch says. “This is a high-powered operation that takes a lot of risks in major markets. To express that aspect of what they do, we wanted to bring in a bold accent.” Bright purple panels of laminated glass surround the reception area and line the stairwell, which glows thanks to the skylight above. LED cove lighting further brightens the walls and gently illuminates the space.
Sculptural purple sofas by Dune and Nanimarquina gray shag rugs add to the youthful sensibility of the reception area, as do the distinctly contemporary furnishings elsewhere on the floors, including Moroso Saruyama Island and Vitra Monopod lounge seating, and Moroso Fjord Stones and Knoll Maya Lin Stones tables. “Different generations are working together in the company,” Murdoch says. “We were trying to speak to them all.”
Venture Capital Office Headquarters
- Architect: Paul Murdoch Architects
- Client: Anonymous
- Where: Menlo Park, California
- What: 25,000 total square feet on two floors, plus basement garage
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request
Key Design Highlights
- The structure is inspired by prefab design but features custom details that prefab construction would not have allowed.
- A green roof and outdoor terraces draw nature into the building and make it appear more residential to fit in with its neighbors.
- Interior finishes—including paneled walls, slatted ceilings, and custom desks—are primarily fir.
- Purple walls in the reception area and purple furnishings throughout the office bring a jolt of energy to the otherwise neutral palette.