Washington Fruit & Produce Company

For a family-owned operation, Graham Baba Architects crafts a sublime headquarters rooted in the landscape of central Washington’s golden hills. Photography by Kevin Scott.

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The land of the Yakima Valley in central Washington State allows its local agriculture industry to thrive, with high-quality volcanic soil and irrigation from the Yakima River supporting many fruit orchards. Washington Fruit & Produce Company, which has been family-owned and operated in Yakima since 1916, grows, packs, and ships premium fruit. For 30 years, the company’s offices had been located in a tilt-up concrete building that, like many adjacent warehouses, offered few windows, little ambiance, and virtually no connection to the landscape.

When Washington Fruit’s production facilities moved across town, owner Rick Plath embraced the opportunity to make the new workspace a natural oasis. Plath and his team desired an office that would provide refuge from the seemingly harsh industrial agribusiness landscape. “We are around a lot of concrete, conduits, and wires all day in our packing facilities,” Plath says. “We wanted to have that view disappear in the office, and to instead look out at the valley’s natural characteristics: the hills in the distance as they turn from green to tan as the summer progresses and as they get topped with snow each winter.”

The 16,500-square-foot headquarters, designed by Seattle firm Graham Baba Architects and led by partner Brett Baba (a former high school classmate of Plath’s), is focused on warm materials that connect with the landscape, visual protection from a nearby freeway, and minimized equipment and devices. Graham Baba created “an inwardly focused building,” as Baba explains, that is oriented around a landscaped courtyard. A grass-covered earthen berm acts as a barrier on two sides, and a board-formed concrete wall separates the entrance from the highway while directing views upward toward the basalt hills beyond. Without Plath’s directive, “We probably would have done something more referential to the concrete and the flat roofs of the packing facility buildings,” Baba says. “Mr. Plath pushed us in a different direction, which made for a much more interesting building.”

Drawing from a vernacular vocabulary
For inspiration, Plath took the designers to see his favorite nearby barn. “It was in decay and its structural elements were exposed,” Baba explains. “We saw the diagonal trusses, and all the wood was very aged. We took that decaying barn as a metaphor. We think of our building like a barn in decay, as if the interior courtyard is where some of the building has been removed and you see the diagonal wood members that hold up the structure.” The barn also provided inspiration for the reclaimed barn wood used on the exterior and portions of the interior.

One enters the L-shaped headquarters through an opening in the berm and crosses the courtyard along a boardwalk that, after passing through a low-ceilinged passageway, continues inside. A series of 18-foot-tall scissor-shaped glulam Douglas fir columns stands just outside of the glass walls, working in tandem with 68-foot-long exposed trusses to make the interior exceptionally open. Thanks to a raised access floor and a series of custom-designed floor lamps dubbed “street lights,” the ceiling is—per Plath’s request—completely free of any clutter that would mar the beauty of the wood.

Natural light and excellent acoustics were also high priorities. The owners chose to have an open, light-filled workplace with views for all employees. A south-facing clerestory enhances daylight access, and photocells provide balance on darker days.

Washington Fruit researched ways to minimize unwanted noise. “We worked with a sound engineer and told him we wanted it to sound like a library,” Plath says. “We used sound-absorbing panels in the ceiling and carpet on the floor. It’s very quiet, and we enjoy that ambiance.”

Social hub for all staff
A separate glass-walled portion of the building that houses the lunchroom is a social hub for the company. Every week, at a 30-foot-long dining table, Plath and his team meet with supervisors and field staff who come in from the orchards. “The apple business has three areas: growing, packing, and selling,” Plath says. “It’s helpful that the field people are hearing how sales are going, and sales hears how apple quality is at the time of packing.”

And whether dining or working under the massive Douglas fir trusses with a view of the mountains, staff appreciate how the new headquarters has given Washington Fruit & Produce a new life. “It’s been quite a crowd pleaser,” Baba says. But, he adds, that contentment is not just about the interiors and the architecture framing the view. “It’s really about the land around it and being part of the landscape.”

who Architect and interior designer: Graham Baba Architects. Project team: Brett Baba; Hill Pierce; Jenn LaFreniere. Interior consultant: Interior Motivs (Brianna Hilliard). Contractor: Artisan Construction. Consultants: Meier Civil Engineering. Lighting: Brian Hood Lighting. Engineering: MA Wright (structural); Arup (MEP). Landscape: The Berger Partnership. what Wallcoverings: Architextures; FabriTrak; Carnegie. Laminate: Wilsonart. Hard flooring: Millwork Preservation. Resilient flooring: Marmoleum. Recessed lighting: Lotus. Track lighting: Tegan; Hafele; Tech-Lighting. Task lighting: Tolomeo. Floor/table lamps: custom by Graham Baba Architects; Atlas & Cedar. Pendants/chandeliers: custom by Graham Baba Architects; Resolute; Foscarini. Sconces: Resolute; WAC. Exterior lighting: Bega; BK Lighting; Lucifer; Element Lighting. Hardware: Sargent; Mockett. Doors: Wausau Storefront; Pacific Windows; Millwork Preservation. Architectural glass/glazing: Pacific Window Systems. Decorative glass panels/partitions: custom by Pacific Window Systems. Window treatments: Crestron. Workstations: Herman Miller. Seating: Herman Miller; Setu; Allermuir; Full Twist; Geiger. Tables: custom by Stusser Woodworks; Herman Miller; Meyer Wells; Geiger; Crate and Barrel. Storage systems: Herman Miller; Stusser Woodworks Architectural/ custom woodworking: Stusser Woodworks; Millwork Preservation. Planters/ accessories: Stepstone. Signage: Eagle Signs. Plumbing fixtures/fittings: Kohler; Delta; Kohler; Bobrick. Textile treatments/finishes: Crestron; Carnegie.

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