When a law firm forgoes tradition to embrace innovation with an open and sustainable design for its own workplace interior, it is groundbreaking. That is exactly what happened in the Washington, D.C., office of Nixon Peabody—a global law practice with locations in 16 major cities—after a major rebranding and new workspace design.
“We weren’t interested in following benchmarks or what other firms were doing,” says Nixon Peabody Managing Partner Jeff Lesk. “I was charged with reducing our footprint by 30 percent while still allowing for growth.” To accomplish greater flexibility and planning efficiency, the firm relocated its 160 staff members to 65,565 square feet on floors four through six at 799 9th Street, NW, a 10-story, LEED Gold-certified, Class A office building built in 2001. The location is just three blocks away from the former Nixon Peabody office.
To have a new workplace that reflects authenticity, a connection to the natural world, and collaboration—and to align its own culture and values within the new interior—Nixon Peabody commissioned the Washington, D.C., office of Perkins+Will. “Jeff made it clear that they were not interested in anything done before,” says Ken Wilson, FAIA, the project’s design principal at Perkins+Will. “So we looked deep into what kind of firm [Nixon Peabody] is and what its values are. We let those things drive the design.” Bringing nature indoors
Nixon Peabody took a teaming approach, and began with a sustainability charrette to define its program. “If you start early with a great team, everything goes through an environmental lens,” Lesk says. “Flexibility was also a huge element. We wanted the ability to grow while eliminating redundancy and staying on budget.” Capturing the firm’s vision and commitment to openness and equity, Perkins+Will created a layered, transparent series of spaces connected by a three-story open stair along the window wall. The stairs are anchored on one side by a vegetative wall that cascades from the sixth floor down to a dry stone riverbed on the fourth floor. “Going up and down the stairs is like taking a nature walk,” Lesk says.
The interior also provides a connection to the natural world through daylight, exterior views, and the use of materials such as crafted oak floors and walnut wall panels. To separate the conference room from the adjacent walkway, the designers selected blue glass wall panels set at angles to evoke both a calming sky and the sea.
“One thing that many people do not realize is that attorneys see what they do as craft,” says Wilson. “You’ll see this expression of craftsmanship reflected in everything from the modern butterfly joint details in the elevator lobby’s wood panels to the handcrafted furniture.”
Craft, connection, and collaboration
In a design that is fairly progressive for a law firm, the plan turns the traditional workplace layout inside out. Service and storage functions are in the core, surrounded by common areas and transparent perimeter offices, with all partners’ offices the same size. Common areas have replaced corner offices that, according to Wilson, “democratize space for employees and provide full transparency from one end of the block to the other."
The elevator entrance lobby is on the middle of three floors, adjacent to a reception and cafe space that also serves as a common meeting area. These active design elements aim to draw people away from their desks. “In the old space, there was always a subliminal separation,” Lesk says. “Now, spaces are communal and people are moving and interacting. That’s healthy for the staff and for any business.”
A key aspect of the high-performance design is the mechanical systems, which improve indoor air quality and offer zoned temperature controls to create a healthy workspace. Additionally, low-VOC materials were specified, and the living vegetative wall—irrigated with graywater from air conditioning condensate—provides natural air filtration and weaves together design, technology, and craft.
A sustainable and supportive environment
Nixon Peabody wanted its office—which is certified platinum for LEED for Commercial Interiors and meets the aggressive energy reductions of the AIA 2030 Challenge—to reflect its support of environmental and social responsibility. The firm now consumes one-fourth of the energy that it had in its previous office by using LED lights, maximizing daylight penetration, and minimizing heat gain and glare with an automated window shade system. The firm also negotiated a green lease to have solar panels installed on the roof and to have its space individually metered so that it pays only for its own energy use. It plans to donate net energy to an affordable housing project in Washington.
With this interior, Nixon Peabody has set a new precedent for law firm workplaces. The biggest surprise? According to Herb Steven, Nixon Peabody’s chief innovation officer, “We hadn’t properly understood the positive effect of design on our life and work.”
who Architect and interior designer: Perkins+Will. Project team: Ken Wilson; David Cordell; Nina Lahham; Haley Nelson. Contractor: James G. Davis Construction Corporation. Lighting: Patricia Kazinski Lighting Consultant. Engineering: GHT Limited. Acoustician: Hush Acoustics. Project management: KGO. Audiovisual: CMS Audiovisual.
what Wallcoverings: Buzzispace; Novawall. Paint: Sherwin-Williams; Scuffmaster; MDC Ideapaint. Laminate: Formica. Solid surface: Dupont. Drywall: National Gypsum. Movable walls: Skyfold. Demountable Partitions: MAI Alur. Tile backsplash: Fireclay Tile. Wood veneer: Dooge Veneer. Hard flooring: reSAWN Timber Company; Floor Gres through Stone Source. Tile accessories: Schluter; Grout: Mapei. Resilient flooring: Armstrong Flooring; Allstate Base. Carpet/carpet tile: Shaw Contract; Interface. Ceilings: Armstrong Ceilings. Recessed lighting: Gotham; Finelite; Focal Point; Fraqtir; Vode. Task lighting: Finelite. Fluorescent/ industrial: Lithonia; Elliptipar. Pendants/chandeliers: Peerles; Focal Point; Moooi; Leucos. Hardware: Hager Companies; Schlage; LCN; Von Duprin; Rixson; CR Laurence; Dorma. Door: VT Industries; Wilson Partitions. Architectural glass/ glazing: Pilkington; Cardinal. Decorative glass panels/ partitions: GlasPro; Skyline Design; Summit Glass; Walker. Applied film visual distraction markers: Llumar. Window treatments: MechoSystems; Lutron. Workstations: Knoll. Workstation/task seating: Knoll. Conference seating: Herman Miller. Lounge/reception seating: Arper; Bernhardt Design; Coalesse; Davis; Geiger; Herman Miller; Jas. Becker; KnollStudio; Poltrona Frau; StudioTK. Area rug: Arzu Studio Hope. Cafeteria/dining seating: Herman Miller. Upholstery: Bernhardt Textiles; Carnegie; Designtex; Geiger Textiles; HBF Textiles; Knoll Textiles; Maharam; Luum; Textus; Unika Vaev; Pallas; Spinneybeck; Moore & Giles. Conference tables: Nienkamper; Davis. Cafeteria/dining: Bernhardt Design. Training: Nienkamper; Knoll. Reception desk: custom millwork; Gaithersburg Millwork. Side tables: KnollStudio. Other tables: Coalesse; Bernhardt Design. Files: Office Specialty; SpaceSaver. Shelving: Montisa; Metro. Drawers/casegoods: Knoll. Architectural/custom woodworking/plants/ accessories: Gaithersburg Millwork. Signage: Signs Unlimited. Plumbing fixtures/ fittings: Kohler.