Bio-Engineered Real Estate

Genentech B35

Genentech’s green Building 35 provides ‘heart’ of its campus.


By David Goll

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he structural future has arrived at the South San Francisco headquarters of biotechnology giant Genentech Inc.

A new structure called Building 35 opened in late spring. It can accommodate up to 1,500 employees and has panoramic views of San Francisco Bay to the east and the steep hills of northern San Mateo County to the west. The seven-story, 255,000-square-foot building is also distinguished by its sleek glass exterior, two wings of work areas, an expansive atrium and an uncommon level of workplace intimacy to foster communication and collaboration.

“This is a very important building at Genentech in that it provides its campus with a heart, a center, which it didn’t have before,” said Cathy Simon, the building’s lead designer and design principal in the San Francisco office of Perkins+Will Inc., a Chicago-based architecture and design firm. “It really reinforces the company’s goal of being a wonderful campus and place to work.”

The new building houses the product development, bioinformatics and other departments for Genentech, a nearly 40-year-old company dedicated to developing medicines to combat serious diseases. It became a wholly owned subsidiary of Switzerland’s F. Hoffman-La Roche AG in 2009. Genentech officials anticipate Building 35 will be granted LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold status by the U.S. Green Building Council.

It has been designed to use 35 percent less energy than conventional office buildings by incorporating “smart” lighting controls and automatic dimming features, LED lighting fixtures and exterior perforated metal fins and interior automatic shading to reduce heat gain and glare, according to Susan Willson, a Genentech spokeswoman. One of those features includes windows high in the atrium opening automatically when the outdoor temperature ranges between 65 and 78 degrees.

This not only reduces the need for heating and air-conditioning in the structure but also cuts down on the need for interior lighting since “everything is daylit in this building,” Simon said. A number of sustainable materials from near and far were used in its construction. Simon said that includes discarded fishing nets from the Philippines as part of the carpeting and wood salvaged from the support pilings of the old Transbay Terminal building—now being rebuilt as the Transbay Tower in downtown San Francisco.

“We were able to salvage a huge quantity of this beautiful old wood and use it in the structure,” Simon said. “When one enters from the east or the west side of the building, you come into a high, one-story space that is very warm and welcoming and then enter the soaring atrium, lined with wood.”

Built on the site of a former donut factory, B35, as it’s called, was also built with productive working relationships in mind, Simon said.


“Genentech is very good to its employees,” Simon said. “[The company’s] goals were to make this new building a collaborative, community-forming, cost-effective and efficient place to work, as well as being sustainable.”

The atrium gives the building a light and spacious look and feel, and Simon designed bridges through the space to connect floors and create “living rooms or lounges” with furniture islands to encourage casual communication and collaboration between employees.

“These are places where conversations can lead to the next great discovery,” she said.

The elevated walkways also encompass conference rooms and give employees the ability to view work proceeding throughout the building. There are no enclosed private offices. Departmental “neighborhoods” also include kitchens for employees, a coffee bar, cafeteria emphasizing healthy cuisine and a vertical design that encourages walking up and down a centralized stairway instead of always using elevators.

“When you are in the atrium, you always have a sense of people working cooperatively,” Simon said. “We wanted to create a gregarious building.”

Willson gives much credit for B35’s eventual design to Genentech becoming the first corporate client of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Facility for Low Energy Experiments in Buildings—called FLEXLAB—at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley. She said the program allowed company officials to test out such features as energy-saving window shades, innovative lighting and air-conditioning systems, as well as unconventional office layouts, before the building was designed.

B35 has become a prototype for new development on the Genentech campus, Willson said. Similar elements will be used in an adjacent employee fitness center—which will provide exercise facilities and include features such as a farmers’ market and access to medical care—that is now under construction and scheduled for completion next year.

Photography courtesy of Genentech & Perkins+Will

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