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The new Genzyme Center in Massachusetts was designed not only to be green, but <br>to keep its occupants happy with daylight, air and greenery.

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17 Jan 2005

by Noel Young

Perhaps the folks at Scottish Enterprise knew about the American success of the Channel 4 property programme, Location, Location, Location. Perhaps they didn’t. Whatever, they certainly chose - in architectural terms - a killer-diller location for a party to mark Jack Perry’s first visit to the US as chief executive.
At the invitation of Glasgow-born Mark Bamforth, the company’s senior vice-president, the function was held at the new world headquarter of the high-flying biotech corporation, Genzyme, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Designed by German architects, Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner, who beat off six international competitors in a contest, this is a building that has all America talking. One of its main purposes: keeping the employees happy.

The firms competing with Behnisch focused on what the building looked like from the outside. The Behnisch proposal was very different. As CEO Henri Termeer said at the opening, \"Genzyme Center was designed from the inside out ” with primary focus on creating a positive workplace for employees. As you walk up to the glass-walled 12-storey HQ in Kendall Square, Cambridge, the building is attractive but, at first glance, not all that out of the ordinary. It’s only when you go through the doors that the excitement rises. The inside-out concept has given the 900 Genzyme employees a workplace like no other.
A soaring atrium goes the full height of the building’s 12 storeys. Everything is bathed in natural light. Everywhere there is greenery. Daylight is distributed throughout the building via a natural-light-enhancement system. On the roof, sophisticated mirrors - known as heliostats - track the path of the sun and help direct light inside.

A chandelier made of prismatic tiles casts sunlight entering the atrium into the surrounding workspaces. Reflective panels, a \"light wall\" made of polished aluminum strips, and a reflecting pool all further enhance the flow of light. Along the glass exterior, computer-controlled blinds automatically track the sun\'s position and open to desired angles to let light in while deflecting heat and glare. Termeer explained, “We wanted to create a place where people could interact with each other more readily and communicate more easily, where they could work comfortably and productively. Genzyme exists to innovate, and Genzyme Center reflects this purpose.\"

This is a company that wants its employees to talk to each other, not sit forever cloistered in their offices - bright and airy though they be, and with opening windows to boot. The design “enhances communication by encouraging informal meetings in the building\'s common spaces, garden areas, and in the top-floor cafeteria with its sweeping views of the Boston cityscape, “ says the company. “Various terraces, corners and walkways are furnished to encourage spontaneous conversations.” Eighteen gardens are located throughout the building “to help bring the outdoors in.”

The company is seeking a \"platinum rating” for the HQ, the highest possible from the U.S. Green Building Council. Only six other buildings worldwide have achieved thius rating - not one of them more than a tenth the size if the Genzyme building. A Green Council spokeswoman confirmed that the company had registered for the award. The building has already received awards from the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment.

But there is far more to the 350,000-square-foot building than daylight and greenery. First, it is situated on the former site of an industrial plant and is helping to transform a polluted \"brownfield\" site. The energy costs will be nearly 40 percent less than those of a comparable conventional building. Apart from the vast savings in electric light, the cooling air conditioning in summer - and heating in winter - is powered by waste steam from a nearby power plant. The building is smoke free. Carbon dioxide monitors allow adjustments in airflow to reduce any CO2 levels in the building.

State of the art plumbing will reduce water usage by 32 percent compared with a conventional facility. Look out for dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals.

A “vegetative” living roof (which is split with reflective surfaces) will reduce storm water run-off by 25 per cent. Offices are kept small, but employees enjoy windows that open and abundant natural light: 75 per cent of all workspace requires no natural lighting in normal conditions. “Most employees have direct views to the outdoors from their offices or workspaces, ” says the company.

Founded in Boston in 1981, Genzyme has grown from a small start-up to an enterprise with annual revenues approaching £1.5 billion and more than 5,600 employees in locations spanning the globe. It is a world leader in developing and applying the most advanced technologies in the life sciences. In addition to Behnisch, Genzyme brought in the world-renowned workspace design firm DEGW and its co-founder Frank Duffy.

The site is just a hundred metres from public transport, and the firm is encouraging employees to leave their cars behind by offering fare subsidies! There is parking for bikes and there will be “alternative fuel recharging stations “ in the basement garage. Over 75 percent of the materials used in the building contained recycled materials, and more than 90 percent of all construction waste from the project was recycled.

Genzyme admits that the Center did cost more to build than a standard office building, but says it is difficult to assign an exact “dollar premium” to the environmental features.”These are carefully integrated with the building’s design,” says a spokesman. “ Is the glass exterior a design element or an environmental feature? It is critical to the building’s design - but it also plays a key role in the natural lighting system. The company is confident that, over time, the premium associated with the environmental design will be more than compensated for by savings from reduced operating costs, increases in productivity, reduced absenteeism, easier recruiting, and greater retention of talented employees.

Genzyme’s hope is that Genzyme Center will stand as an example that it is possible to construct an exciting, beautiful, and employee-friendly building that makes both economic and environmental sense. Mark Bamforth said, “ We wanted a signature building that would reflect our core values a . . .we wanted a bold building that would make a statement about the values that have driven our success.“

The Genzyme Center has certainly produced great enthusiasm locally. Both Senator Ted Kennedy and Governor Mike Romney were full of praise at the opening. If some of those positive vibes rub off on the cooperation agreement that the SE’s Jack Perry signed with his Massachusetts counterpart - looking out on that inspirational atrium - Scotland stands to do very well indeed.

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