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Circulation Is Priority for Triangular Structure

Exterior rendering of the triangular shape of the NVIDIA headquarters building
The triangular shape of the NVIDIA headquarters building shortens the distance between the perimeter, where workspaces are located, and the center, where social spaces exist. A twin structure is planned but has not yet been finalized. Gensler

The design of a technology company headquarters building encourages interactions by locating social spaces in the center and offices along the perimeter.

June 25, 2013—In planning the 485,000 sq ft Silicon Valley headquarters for NVIDIA, which manufactures graphics processing units, designers at Gensler were faced with providing an effective workspace for the company that supports a culture of collaboration.

“We knew from the beginning that we wanted this to be at the most a two-story building,” says Manan Shah, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, the senior project manager for Gensler. “We wanted to try to maximize the number of people we could get on every floor.” A more typical four- or five-story office environment would limit employees’ ability to interact serendipitously. Locating the workers on two floors will put them in close contact with each other and allow more collaboration.

The new NVIDIA building, located in Santa Clara, will situate workspaces around the perimeter while consolidating social spaces—conference rooms, casual meeting spaces, dining facilities, an auditorium—at the center, underneath a massive, undulating skylight. (A twin building, dubbed phase two, is also planned, though there’s no timetable yet for its completion.)

Eschewing convention, Gensler settled on a triangular form for the building. This allows a shorter distance between the building’s perimeter and its center than a circular or square floor plate. Further, the triangle is the fundamental building block for the geometry of NVIDIA’s graphics products, says Shah. “Once we came across that form, it really began to have a lot of resonance and meaning with the company as well.”

On the other hand, compressing the building’s program into two floors meant the building would be big—each side is nearly 600 ft long. To help articulate such a massive floor plate, Gensler focused on the roof, designing a complicated series of folded triangular forms. “We’re trying to bring in as much natural daylight as possible into those large, deep, open floor plates,” says Shah. A central skylight above the building’s social areas, as well as triangular skylights dispersed across the roof surface, is meant to help bring in daylight. Further, the faceted roof is meant to “define neighborhoods within the floor plans, so that you don’t have this large, perfect expanse of space, but that you really create identities for individual areas. The roof geometry underneath will help support that.” 

Ground view rendering of the triangular shape of the NVIDIA headquarters building

The nearly five-acre roof of the NVIDIA building is a complex,
folded structure meant to define “neighborhoods” within the large
floor plates. Construction is expected to begin later this year.

Navin Amin, P.E., S.E., M.ASCE, a principal of Louie International, the structural engineers for the project, describes the roof as “one of a kind,” and notes that “it requires a lot of coordinated efforts to engineer the roof like that. It’s an iconic roof, and we’re still developing the concepts for framing that roof, so that we can actually expose the structure also.”

The nearly five-acre roof, which will be framed predominantly in structural steel, will comprise equilateral triangular elements with 72 ft long sides. Amin and his colleagues are developing a structural system that coordinates with these triangular forms —the roof will be structured as a series of triangles within the larger triangle that forms the roof. Louie International is still studying which concepts would enable the framing system to be seen from the underside and also accommodate the roof’s triangular skylights; shear walls and buckling restraint braces are being evaluated on the basis of “cost, impact on the functional layout of the space, and constructability,” Amin says. “The challenge is to find a system that can actually accommodate all that variety of occupancy and not compromise the function of the building,” he explains.

Currently, Amin says, the plan calls for a grid of columns on the first floor arranged in 36 ft by 31 ft bays, while the second-floor columns, taking cues from the roof, will be arranged in a 72 by 72 ft triangular arrangements. In designing the layout of the column grids, the engineers must balance the NVIDIA’s diverse workspaces against the need for the building to resist seismic forces.

The glass facade around the building’s perimeter has not been finalized, but Shah expects Gensler will try to balance transparency—to give passersby a peak into what Shah calls “the working heart of NVIDIA”—with the need to provide sufficient solar shading to minimize heat gain. “We’re beginning to undulate the facade and change the fenestration pattern to allow for some areas to be more sheltered and some areas to be more open,” he adds. “It’s not meant to be a monotonous facade.”

Groundbreaking is anticipated later this year, with completion in the fourth quarter of 2015. A twin building, dubbed phase two, is also planned, though there’s no timetable yet for its completion.

NVIDIA is the latest example of Silicon Valley companies — joining the likes of Facebook and Apple —that are pushing beyond staid “office park” architecture for something more innovative in their corporate campuses. “It is a recognition that the environment that these employees work in contributes quite a bit to their effectiveness and their wellbeing in the work place,” says Shah. “So there’s a lot more investment in those environments.”



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