REDWOOD CITY, CA: Zoning ordinances can be complicated to navigate on any project, but what happens when the project site is split between two different municipalities? That’s the conundrum San Francisco-based Form4 Architecture faced when designing a ground-up commercial development in Redwood City, CA. Rather than let the ordinances prove prohibitive, Form4 embraced the opportunity to create an enduring and sustainable workplace campus that balances the needs of commercial tenants while providing an asset for the local community.
Bauen Capital, a development firm in Los Gatos, CA, combined several parcels into a one large block with the aim to build a facility with broad continuous floor plates penetrated by natural daylight on all sides—features that are highly desirable and somewhat rare in the marketplace. Centered between San Jose and San Francisco in the Bay Area, the light-industrial-zoned site is ideal for hosting research and development space geared toward life sciences and tech companies. The $103.5-million project is expected to break ground in 2023.
Since separate portions of the site are regulated by either Redwood City or San Mateo County, the architects needed a design solution to address the differing governing factors, such as allowable FAR, parking requirements (including EVs and bicycles), building heights, and setbacks. For example, San Mateo has a strict 40-foot building height limit, while Redwood City permits structures up to 75 feet tall. Navigating these varying factors, Form4 designed two separate and complementary buildings, at 2900 and 2950 Bay Road, that met their respective zoning requirements.
“The challenge was achieving cohesion between the two buildings, while designing them to be a little different,” said John Marx, AIA, co-founding principal and chief artistic officer at Form4 Architecture. “We chose to keep the heights of the buildings similar for the sake of maintaining a consistent scale that responds to its context.”
Intentionally set back from the street, the resulting two-story buildings integrate ground-level parking garages and 160,000 square feet of leasable space above—130,000 square feet in San Mateo County, 30,000 square feet in Redwood City. Overall massing, materiality, and architectural detailing are guided by the urban design narrative and the project’s sustainability goals. The cast-in-place concrete structures feature wide floor plates, energy-efficient envelopes, high-performance all-electric mechanical systems, and provisions for rooftop solar arrays.
The cladding palette features light-gray cementitious ﬁnishes trimmed with white aluminum overhangs and trellis structures. Full-height brise-soleils reduce heat gain, and dark aluminum mullions create the visual expression. Exterior stair towers contrast the rhythm of the bays, anchor the project boundaries, identify parking entrances, and balance the overall composition.
“California is known for indoor-outdoor living, and a range of exterior spaces throughout the development provide venues for working and socializing while taking advantage of the mild climate,” said Paul Ferro, CEO of Form4 Architecture. “The development’s south elevation features a large cut-out at the middle third, which creates a two-story exterior open space for hosting private meetings or work breaks.” A lush, landscaped portion of the roof provides additional outdoor amenity space. Low-water-use plant species—including natives—are used throughout.
The project’s signature feature is a palm-tree-framed overhead agora (the developer’s adopted nickname for the project). Form4 drew inspiration for this space from the classic Greek agora—a central public gathering spot traditionally constructed from colonnades and located near a city’s center. Form4 paid homage to the classic colonnade with metal mullions, supporting a trellis that partially shades the primary outdoor assembly space. Effectively, this public plaza serves as the centerpiece of the Bauen Capital project.
Access to the agora is via a wide monumental stair with integrated seating and landscaping, leading visitors to an elevated plaza that emphasizes views to a park across the street, which is associated with Stanford Medical Center. A continuous tree-lined promenade provides a pedestrian-friendly streetscape. Flush and raised planters at the east and west yards function as stormwater retention and ﬁltration areas. These exterior spaces, combined with abundantly daylit interiors and optimized park views, promote wellness at work and improve quality of life for the tenants.
Unlike the larger structure, the smaller building features soaring 29-foot-tall ceilings, abundant glazing, and a partial mezzanine lending it to an array of potential uses. The parking garage to the west is screened at each bay with a planted trellis that provides a vertical green base to the structure, obscures its function, and allows for natural ventilation. If a single tenant leases both structures, the architects have designed a bridge that could connect the buildings at the second-floor level. In turn, the development targets life sciences or tech tenants with goals of improving the quality of life for all.
In addition to Marx, the Form4 Architecture project team includes CEO/partner-in-charge Paul Ferro, project manager/director Phil Hyndman, project architect Bo Yoon, job captain Juan Benavides, job captain Jericho Kakaio-Edwards, project designer/associate Nicholas Prato, and designer Saba Raji.
Affiliated firms are Devcon (contractor), The Guzzardo Partnership (landscape architect), FBA Engineering (structural engineer), BKF Engineers (civil engineer), Illuminate (lighting designer), and Salter (acoustical consultant).
Form4 Architecture believes in returning a sense of humanity to Modernism through emotional meaning and poetic design. The award-winning firm specializes in creating environments— whether tech offices, mixed-use developments, educational facilities, or cultural institutions— that respond as equally to the environment of the site as they do to the people they serve. Winner of the 2017 American Prize for Architecture, Form4 creates formal expressions that are emotionally resonant and conceptually thoughtful, as well as deeply extend the client’s values and goals. As collaborative partners in the building process, the principals of Form4 Architecture Paul Ferro, John Marx, AIA, and James Tefend—are actively involved with every project from concept to completion, bringing the collective wealth of years of expertise and knowledge to each client’s vision. Since 1998, the firm has built a rich portfolio of award-winning work for national and international clients within diverse market sectors.