Using the space

Who knew a new office building, especially one as cool as this, comes with so many social engagements? We are booked solid for the summer, hosting wonderful organizations such as Great City Initiative, Interior Design Coalition of Washington, Allied Arts and Green Drinks, not to mention our own internal events.

The big question is how well can one have a large event – in the realms of 300-400 people – successfully in this space? And, really, with so many people and no air-conditioning, won’t we overheat?

Well, we attempted the experiment with our open house on June 24th and found it to be a rousing success. Our fantastic, energetic staff created a self-guided tour – with different stops that talk about Energy, Recycling, Materials, Carbon Neutral, Ventilation and Daylighting – to lead guests throughout the office. We had a drawing for a Herman Miller Mirra Chair, and rocking tunes to shake those sexy blinds.

Herman Miller donated the Mirra Chair for us to give away and Cascade A+E donated some of the signage. The food was by Portage Bay, we featured Washington wine, specially-labeled Jones sodas and beer from SLU brewery Two Beers Brewing Company.

Best of all, the weather was perfect and the office stayed nice and cool which gave everyone a chance to experience what we have been saying all along.

Next up, our “Seems to be Green” indoor golf tournament. Nine holes, each designed by a group of staff members, throughout the office, with the ninth hole starting on the third floor, going down the outside stairs, and ending up in the courtyard. We will have lots of nerf golf balls, bobble-head awards for the winners, and pizza for our employee’s families.

It is supposed to be a hot day, but we aren’t worried. It is cool in here – despite the high population.

-Elizabeth Holland, LEED AP, Principal

A [bath]room with a view

At The Terry Thomas, even the bathrooms have a view, as well as fully operable windows.

In an effort to maximize the building’s usable space, we tucked the building’s core by a blank south wall that overlooks the alley. Doing this provided us the opportunity to locate the bathrooms along exterior walls with expansive windows.

This quirky characteristic means that the second- through fourth-floor bathrooms have lovely views from some of the stalls.  With a little head craning, we can see Denny Park, the bustling construction activity in the Denny Triangle, Belltown and beyond. We can even see the site of one of our future projects!  The first-floor bathroom windows were sacrificed due to the exhaust from the transformer vault.

There’s one, relatively obvious, concern we had with our decision to include windows in our bathrooms  – privacy, as the window glass is clear. Currently, the building across the alley is not occupied and its windows are obscured.  However, that property may one day be developed. When that happens, we’ll have to find ways to obscure the glass in our bathroom windows. It‘ll be a challenge – balancing our dedication to connecting the Terry Thomas to the outdoors while providing needed privacy.

We’ve developed several schemes and mocked it up on the windows. After much deliberation we’ve decided that when the time comes, we’ll add horizontal stripes of frosted film, leaving some clear space between them. This will increase privacy while still preserving our connection to the outside world.  Even with the frosted stripes, we’ll still have a full view if we want – after all, we can always just open the windows.

-Elzbieta Zielinska, LEED AP; Project Manager for The Terry Thomas

The lights go on…the lights go off

The lighting system in our office is complex and has been a challenge. Our goal was to employ a highly efficient lighting system for our office space that would reduce energy usage. The spaces in our office are 95% daylit because of the amount of glazing, so it is important that we take advantage of this asset.

The lights are controlled by several different technologies:
•    Photoelectric eyes measure the amount of sun coming into the space and increase or decrease the fluorescent lighting to balance the light levels in the office.
•    Occupancy/motion sensors turn lights on and off in spaces, depending on occupancy.
•    Managed lighting, by lighting controls company LC&D, sets the lighting levels on a schedule based on the time of day or night. LC&D is continuing to tweak the system, so patience is in order for all of us.

The availability of adjustments in time, light level and schedule will take time to work out and have proven to be a challenge to our team. When the photoelectric eyes measure enough natural light in a space, they signal the lights to turn off. Yet this sometimes still feels dark. A few people have reported coming into work on the weekend or at night to a building that is fully lit. Our amazing exterior sunshades automatically close to block the sun in the afternoon, and these sometimes cover the light sensors, which will then turn on the lights on a sunny day.

These are all kinks that will be worked out over time, but as it is our first time with this technology, there is a learning curve figuring out the glitches. In our old office, people customized the lighting above their desks by hooking or unhooking the fluorescent lights in the drop ceiling. In Terry Thomas, employees have flexibility with task lights at their desks if they need more light, but most choose not to use them.

It is, however, a real treat to work in a space fully lit by natural light. It feels like you are outside. The natural daylighting continues the connection we have with the outdoors, an experience we did not have in the old office.

-Mina Ghanaie, LEED AP


So how do we track our building performance?

If you haven’t read it yet, blogger Katie Zemtseff, the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce’s environment reporter, reviewed our blog. It was a great review, and in it, she challenged us to report on how the building is performing.

We’ve been here two months, and we are still adjusting the systems to make sure they perform accurately and efficiently.

According to the modeling and calculations done by Stantec Consulting, the building will record a 56 percent water savings and a 30 percent energy savings compared to a traditionally designed building designed to the current codes.

To reach those goals, we need to make sure the building and all its systems are working the way they were designed to. Hence, we have commissioning – a quality-control check performed by an independent third party (Keithly Barber Associates, in our case) to ensure that the systems have been installed and are performing according to the specifications.

We just conducted the first tour of the commissioning, and it explained a lot. At times we have felt that the systems haven’t worked properly. The heating, for instance, has been especially erratic; sometimes it seemed too cold, sometimes too hot. Through the commissioning, we discovered that one of the thermostats was located above a light dimmer that emits a lot of heat.

We caught other things as well, including digital controls that were not programmed properly. Also, a CO2 sensor wouldn’t open a certain louver. Through this in-depth review of the building, we hope to detect and fix all problems within a couple of weeks.

Once we know that the systems work properly, Weber Thompson’s Energy and Resources Group (from our internal Green Team) will start analyzing the utility bills for the whole building and power bills for WT office space. (We occupy 25,000 of the building’s 40,000 square feet.)  The building’s management company (Stephen C. Grey Associates) will send us bills for the entire building. Fortunately that company also managed our previous location, so we will be able to compare our current bills with the models as well as with our former, traditional office building. Continue reading “Performance”

Let’s open a few windows

248 of them, to be exact

The Terry Thomas design team has been waiting for this initial string of 80+ degrees days for almost four years. Thousands of hours of work has gone into the design and making of this building. How will the building perform? With 20+ of our team participating in Bike to Work Day, the pressure was on for a cool and comfortable destination. Friday was the first test of the passive cooling system/design. King 5 cameras even knocked on our door to document the occasion.

Our mechanical engineers, Stantec Consulting, gave us a pretty good idea of how our system would handle the heat. Stantec’s extensive thermal modeling indicates that the inside air temperatures will be 75 to 80 degrees for 150 hours annually, 80 to 85 degrees for 50 hours annually and in excess of 85 degrees for 20 hours annually.

The building’s hydronic heating system (convection hot-water radiators on the perimeter) is still set on winter mode, at 68 degrees, and will remain on through mid-June. Because of this, leaving the windows open through the night to purge the warm air is not an option.

Stantec’s Tom Marsielle suggested that we open windows in the morning, either a little or a lot, as deemed necessary by occupants. Tom said the manually operable windows alone should create plenty of cross-ventilation, and then, maybe around noon when the temperature rises to the mid-70s, we could start shutting windows.

Tom was absolutely right. The building was cool and comfortable. A slight northerly breeze consistently moved air through the space most of the day and into the early evening. The interior temperatures peaked at around 75 degrees on Friday and 78 degrees on Saturday, without the exterior louvers operational.  The Saturday reading was with the windows closed, as few were in the office.

What about July and August? We say bring it on! We are ready even if “shorts and flip-flops” may be the fashion statement for a few days.

Credit for passing this first test goes to the entire Terry Thomas Building team. Congratulations to Elzbieta Zielinska, Steve Price, Gabe Hanson, Heidi Fahy, Jeff Dobbs, Kristen Scott, Mina Ghanaie and Peter Greaves.

-Scott Thompson AIA, LEED AP, Principal in Charge of The Terry Thomas

What’s that?

Sounds are all around us. And in this building, you really notice them. We have sound dampeners strategically placed in the ceilings over workspaces and in the conference rooms, but with the openings to allow for ventilation, sounds carry. When the windows are open, outside sounds such as the Streetcar bell, or construction machinery add to the concert.

We are tossing around ideas to mitigate the sound – white noise machines, additional homasote boards on blank walls – but one of our (unnamed) principals has come up with his own solution: a personal sound isolation booth . . .

Elizabeth Holland LEED AP, Principal


We’ve been in our new building one month, and I’m noticing some positive changes in how we are working and interacting.  Everything from seeing people use the new bins for compost in the kitchen (I had no idea you can put used paper towels in them) to having impromptu pinup critiques in the many breakout spaces scattered throughout the office.






Elevator use has dropped significantly, thanks to a prominent open staircase in the courtyard.  The open stair has the added benefit of being a perfect spot to peer across the court and see who’s meeting in the conference rooms and if that staffer you’re looking for is at their desk.  The transparency is surprising – it’s a good thing we have some enclosed private telephone rooms.  Without those there’d be no hiding! Chance meetings in the stair or the kitchen/lounge offer opportunities to ask about how a project is going or to scope out the wait time for lunch at Skillet Street Food… Continue reading “Inspiration”

Less is more in sustainable design

Sustainable design is not only the wiz-bang high-tech features of a green building. Simple solutions contribute to a sustainable design, too.

One such approach Weber Thompson used is to minimize the use of material. In our new office, wherever possible we designed our systems, materials and finishes so they could perform more than one function. In this way one product performs a double duty.

Here are some examples to consider:

> The castellated beam floor framing system of our new building is left exposed and painted white. Not only does this tell the story of how the building works, the white paint enhances the light reflection for both daylight harvesting and indirect lighting of open office areas. The design of the beams also serves as a design aesthetic, informing other choices we made in the build-out of our office space.

> The structural slab is designed to be a floor diaphragm; this structural component resists wind and earthquake shear forces. This same slab is lightly ground and treated with a concrete densifier. The densifier is not a coating that will wear off, but an organic compound that penetrates the concrete and hardens the open cells. There is no finish to maintain, just vacuum or damp mop as needed. This exposed concrete slab is used as the finished floor in the circulation areas, like streets in a city, marking the paths of common travel.

> Ceiling-mounted panels are both light reflectors and sound absorbers throughout our open studio areas. Made from a product called Ecophon, these 4 foot by 6 foot panels are framed in white aluminum and add to the aesthetic pattern of the ceiling in these areas.

> Carpet tiles in the open office areas mark these zones as more private. The carpet under foot (or chair) provides more comfort at our desks and adds further sound attenuation to these areas of the office. Continue reading “Less is more in sustainable design”


As we wrap up the second week in our new home, one of the most pleasant surprises for me is our re-connection to the outside world. We have daylight, fresh air, activity, and movement – a striking contrast to our former digs. For years we sat in a hermetically sealed building 8-10 hours a day with little interaction or contact with the outside world. Now, most of us sit 5-10 feet away from an operable window. The simple opportunity of walking up a flight of exterior stairs in the courtyard contributes to that connectivity.

All of us anxiously await the opportunity to open the windows to see how this all works. The good news is that reports from team members last Saturday (temperature hit 81 degrees in Seattle) indicated the space was comfortable around 4:30pm with the windows closed. It appears that the dampers are doing their job. At our principals meeting last Monday, it was quite evident that the systems were operating as planned in the conference rooms. Within five minutes, the CO2 sensors were opening the dampers, (plenty of hot air in that meeting) and the lighting levels were fluctuating based on cloud cover. A few distractions we will adapt to. Continue reading “Re-Connection”