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We live in a world where corporate mission statements sit on every reception desk—proudly displayed, but often having little to do with how day to day business gets done. Imagine being part of an organization whose mission over the last 60 years has been to eradicate hunger and care for the earth. Simple, yet powerful work, which has successfully transformed desperate villages into self sustained communities in 128 countries worldwide. Their name? Heifer International, headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. Founded on a nonprofit sustainable agricultural model, their philosophy is to help people obtain a source of income through animals and farming techniques. Once secure, they are expected to “pass on the gift” by donating their animal’s first offspring to a neighbor and sharing their knowledge. A literal translation of the old adage—give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime—Heifer is distinguished from global relief agencies by emphasizing long term solutions and community involvement. They hold fast to the belief that giving a source for food also gives the recipient the gift of self reliance and hope. Like ripples in a pool, passing on this gift through resources and skills perpetuates their network within each community.
Heifer recently received the coveted Hilton Humanitarian Award and earned Gold Star Charity designation by Forbes magazine. It has the highest impact for donor gifts and runs a foundation with the lowest percent of operating costs (3%) and second highest return on endowment investments. (20.7%)
A Moving Message
As of 2000, Heifer employees were spread throughout three separate facilities in Little Rock. They had grown from 105 people to well over 200 in four years. While they celebrated the opportunities additional income could bring, the growing pains were undeniable. Heifer could better serve their cause if they were under one roof. And so, a 5 year process began—identifying a site and building a World Headquarters that would become the focal point for their message on agricultural education and stewardship of the planet. The building itself would have to be an integral part of their story.
Do What I Do…
Polk Stanley Rowland Curzon Porter Architects in Little Rock were given the task of site selection and building design. It was to be a living lesson in how construction projects can remain true to the earth’s resources. And what better demonstration of “walking your talk” than taking a local eyesore and cleaning it up? To the casual observer it looked like a long abandoned railroad switching yard by the river. To Heifer it was a golden opportunity to take an environmentally dirty site, a “Brownfield,” and transform it into wetland area. Even abandoned buildings on the site would eventually be totally recycled for gravel, steel, flooring and carpeting.
Gaining LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was crucial—where high performance, sustainable buildings are measured against a national standard. Few projects earn the LEED seal of approval. It requires tremendous attention to “green” aspects of construction and materials. And while the nearby Clinton Library is LEED certified, Heifer had a budget. Could they be fiscally and environmentally responsible at the same time?
Reese Rowland was the lead architect on the project. “Both the interior and exterior feature strong symbolism that tells the Heifer story. The building itself is a narrow semi circle. Concentric rings expanding outward from the initial impact are a theme used throughout the master plan.” The centerpiece is the circular entry (community coming together) opening up to a series of expanding concentric rings (the passing of the gift.) Just as many come together in the “global village,” (celebrating how people meet around the world as equals) the outdoor commons area is circular in design intended to be an important gathering place. Two major streets of the city intersect here—prime locale for a future festivals and other outdoor events.
With its widest point approximately 60 feet, natural light completely permeates building while sensors adjust for darkness. By “over engineering” to accommodate year round solar load control, 52% less energy is used than in the average conventional office building—quite the accomplishment with an all glass building. The narrow curve allows total visibility of the people working, from both inside and outside the building. A water collection tower helps Heifer rely on water falling on the property vs. using the municipal drainage system.
“Each ring of the site plan has a different function. From the moment you park your car, to the time you return, you are crossing rings working together to capture and transform dirty water to potable water. We are teaching people in a very real way what conservation and renewal of resources looks like.”
Reese admits, “Our team was up for the challenge of giving literal expression to how using sustainable methods can impact the world. It’s exciting to participate in creating a building that actually educates people around the country.” The second phase will be a welcome center, and the third is an exhibit area demonstrating the global village.
The aerial or plan view of the building resembles two rings slipping past each other. The roof line interrupts the two sections where people walk and water is collected. One side of the ring contains the open plan offices. The other houses private offices, huddle rooms and meeting areas. They are not equal rings—symbolic of Heifer’s corporate humility— identifying themselves as just one player in what they view as a much larger goal.
Space Supporting the Greater Good
And what of the interior function? According to Reese, the owner wanted the most flexible space possible. Though rarely done, Reese decided to establish the building’s column grid upon the systems furniture selection to minimize the degree of difficulty space planning in such narrow square footage. “We worked it backwards for the building plan.”
Art Bowren, account manager with Today’s Office had an established 9 year relationship with Heifer. Art was very familiar with Heifer’s existing facility. “I knew this move was going to be a big deal for the employees on many levels. My role was to help them picture their transition through visiting sites and installations. At the beginning we had time to go slow and look around.” Eric Swindle, facilities manager for Heifer was interested in seeing how others had gone from tall wall cubes to a more open, teaming atmosphere. “There was going to be some psychological anxiety that we had to overcome.”
Korie Caldwell, Lead Interior Designer for Polk Stanley actually arrived on the scene in the middle of the project when furniture became the main focus. Under Eric’s direction they worked together with several internal committees to review potential solutions. “These people were accustomed to one private office for every three cubes. Now we were talking about a ratio of one to eight. We were also lowering the panels from 60” to 42” or 54”. Storage, privacy and square footage were concerns each department had to wrestle with. “But we needed flexibility to move people instead of workstations…so each typical had to adapt to several job functions.”
Evaluating Potential Partners
The decision was made to short list to four major manufacturers and have employees actually work in mocked up typicals. Two major redesigns and four programming sessions later, it was becoming imperative that Heifer and Polk Stanley decide on a manufacturer and dealer to work on solving key issues going forward. Time and budget were getting short. A bid was developed and sent to the four manufacturers participating in the mock ups. The service aspect carried the most weight, followed by knowledge. Product was number three. The decision would be made by committee.
Rhonda Bradley, president of Today’s Office was eager to do whatever it took to fully support the Heifer team in their evaluation. “We worked side by side with Heifer for many years. This project was going to be high profile for both of us. We would approach this bid by offering Heifer a hybrid of the best practices on as tight a budget as possible without sacrificing their overall vision.”
Art took the Heifer team to Neocon and several installation sites in Dallas and Little Rock. He quickly surrounded himself with the appropriate resources. Keeley, designer with Today’s Office assisted Korie in applying the client’s vision and LEED concepts to the proposal. Keeley, along with Steelcase produced 3D rendering models. She also assisted in inventory of existing furniture and fabric. Korie was grateful. “Keeley made my job less stressful. She never imposed herself and wasn’t threatening; she just made my job easier. Her helpful suggestions kept me from making mistakes.”
Value engineering, design and product application were all crucial. Art and Keeley worked closely on the specifications. The number of finishes made the specification very complex. Installation would have to be coordinated very carefully. “It was a real original,” said Art. “Nothing like we have ever seen before.”
During the evaluation Eric was reminded of the difference service level could bring when considering a dealer team. “We had a situation at an existing facility where we needed 34 workstations and a conference room on 2 floors with 2 different purchase orders. They had to work around contractors. We gave them two weeks to order and receive everything when they really needed a month. The furniture arrived on time. They took control, worked around the other trades, and ran with it. It was installed in three days. In my mind, everyone had to come to Today’s level—they set the bar.”
Ultimately, Today’s Office was chosen to be the furniture dealer and service provider for the Heifer International Headquarters. “We were satisfied with our response, “said Art. “Over the years we got to know how Heifer worked and what was important to them. It’s great to work with a client who respects and values our opinions and doesn’t treat us like just another vendor.”
According to Eric, “…price was important but strong relationships helped.” “Between my boss, Gerald, and Art, I feel like I’ve been taught everything about this business.”
Korie cites ease of doing business and going the extra mile as qualities that separated Today’s Office from the pack. “They never manipulated the system. They did exactly what we asked. Maybe it’s because they are just down the street, but I really trust them.”
Does Eric have any words of wisdom now that the project is almost complete? “It’s important to have executive and employee involvement, but it is equally important to be able to make a firm decision in the company’s best interest at the right time.” Eric also learned that business relationships are as critical as ever. “Art and Rhonda have always taken care of me. They gave me the same attention fixing a pencil drawer as they did bidding for a million dollar project. It’s good to know who you can count on.”
Already touted as model site of sustainable architecture and design, the new Heifer International headquarters is set for a grand opening event spring of 2006. In their humanitarian efforts, they claim “…our effectiveness depends upon the sustained efforts of many partners.” The same can be said in building their new home.