Motorola, Mobilized

By Matt Baker

This is not just a workspace, it is a rebirth. Motorola Mobility has had a turbulent last few years; first being disjoined from the storied Motorola, Inc. to being purchased by Google and ultimately sold off to Chinese technology firm Lenovo. Amidst all this, the company moved its headquarters into a new, vibrant space in the Merchandise Mart.

The move was devised and implemented while the company was still under Google’s stewardship. “Google had purchased [Motorola] and wanted to transform them. And they wanted to transform themselves. They wanted to change the way they work, drive innovation and streamline their workflow,” said Helen Hopton, Senior Associate with Gensler, which operated as project manager for the new space. “They also wanted to be able to recruit and retain young, new talent. That’s one reason that drove them to move to a new, urban setting.”

Motorola7Previously, Motorola operated in a 1.2 million square foot facility in Libertyville. Typical of suburban campuses built in the late twentieth century, it was inefficient and sprawling. Their new space is half that at just over 600,000 square feet, stacked between floors 16 through 19 in the Mart.

“If you look at Google’s history … they actually prefer older buildings,” said Jeff Krol, a Senior Project Manager with CBRE, which was the client advocate from pre-transaction through design, construction and move-in. “They have more character and the time frame to build them out is shorter.” This last point was particularly important. From implementation until the last of the 2,000 employees moved in was only 19 months.

Motorola6One essential in their property search was a location that could accommodate their need for both office and lab space. The Mart was able to provide that as well as to help the company attain its sustainability goals, since the building has been LEED-certified since 2007 and has partnered with both the Clinton Climate Initiative and the Environmental Defense Fund. The building is also one of a few in Chicago with its own transit station, which encourages employees and tenants to seek alternate forms of transportation to work.

“This building made things easy for us. We really embraced the bones of the building,” said Hopton. Sustainability starts with passive solutions and Gensler was able to salvage a lot in the space to not only render the offices greener, but to make the build-out quicker and cheaper. Old showroom stairways were preserved while 84-year-old terrazzo floors were uncovered and returned to use.

Motorola also came to the Mart at an interesting time as the building was undergoing a floor-by-floor renovation of its public restrooms. The company wanted to ensure that their facilities used water efficiently, including toilets that were below 1.6 gallons per flush. However, there were concerns that this wouldn’t be possible without replacing the existing porcelain, a cost-prohibitive prospect.

“Because Motorola was interested in pursuing LEED certification and being as sustainable as possible,” said Laci Wilkes, Director of Sustainability with CBRE, “they were able to test out a couple of different flushometer models before they renovated our restrooms.” This, along with low-flow and metered fixtures in kitchen areas and all new restrooms, resulted in a 30% water use reduction.

Motorola4There are a number of “micro kitchens” throughout the space, and each has a different aesthetic; one is sports-themed, for example, while another is zen-inspired. “We are storytellers,” said Hopton. “A space can have a narrative. The workplace tells a story, the labs tell a story, even the micro kitchens we developed through the space tell a story about who Motorola is and what they’re doing.” The design scheme changes throughout the office, creating different neighborhoods that allow for navigation.

The labs, where prototypes are constructed and technology is tested, are huge spaces located adjacent to the core of the building, where they very well could sit, hidden and removed. Instead, they were each called out with unique, repurposed cladding. One is dressed in salvaged brick while corrugated metal, wood and limestone tiles find second lives on other labs.

“They really focused on creating a natural space,” said Wilkes. “We focused on materials that had high recycled content and were manufactured locally.” Nearly 30% of new materials, based on cost, were made from recycled content, and more than half of materials were sourced regionally. Skender Construction, which was the general contractor on the project, donated all extra building materials to the ReBuilding Exchange, helping to offset any landfill use.

Motorola3Flexibility was built into the social and work areas. “Our approach was that it’s a hackable space,” said Hopton. Common area furniture is designed to move as needed and even the work stations themselves are not fixed; data and electric cables tether to each desk and components are mobile. “It’s a space that changes with them and how they want to work,” Hopton said.

The existing HVAC system was the original, constant volume one installed when the Mart was first constructed in 1930. “Moving to state of the art air handlers, VFDs and brand new, clean ductwork was very important and it also allowed us to maximize the ceiling height,” said Krol.

The new variable air volume systems are a huge step up, not only in energy efficiency but in ease of maintenance. Temperature control in the labs is handled with a chilled beam system. This also accommodates the very high power densities in the seven labs. The chilled beams are very sensitive to pressurization and humidity, so active monitoring of all those systems is controlled from a central location. Heat recovery coils ensure that when chilled water is needed in the winter it returns first to air handling systems, and the outdoor air that is coming in to ventilate the labs first passes over the coils and pre-cools the water.

Motorola2A careful lighting design incorporates a mix of LED and high efficient fluorescent fixtures throughout the space. Light-responsive controls around the perimeter work with incoming daylight to make illuminating the space even more efficient. Work surface finishes were even selected for their reflective properties and helped to abate the need for artificial light. An aggressive lighting power density of .78 Watts per square foot is a 32% reduction from the ASHRAE baseline.

Submeters and sensors are tied to the automation system which the facility manager tracks. “They’ve got it set up so they can really manage their energy usage, monitor what their employees are doing and identify any problems that might come up in a relatively quick manner by having all those sensors in place,” said Wilkes.

Motorola Mobility’s Chicago headquarters were certified LEED Platinum last year. One thing that helped get them to that level, especially considering the tight construction window, was the USGBC’s new Proven Provider designation.

Organizations with significant LEED project administration experience can apply to take part in the program which ultimately streamlines the LEED project review process. CBRE is a Proven Provider and according to Wilkes, it was instrumental to building out a sustainable space in the time span that Motorola was looking for. “The process allows for direct conversation with the review team prior to submittal,” she said. “We were successful in documenting quickly. Without that, we wouldn’t have been able to.”

One can’t walk through the Motorola Mobility offices without being drawn to the strong visual design. It is fresh and invigorating, displaying a revivification in parallel to the company itself. It is a space, and a company, reborn.


Images: Motorola Mobility

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