Wood siding and high performance glazing invite nature into the workplace.
For their new headquarters in Wilmington, North Carolina, Live Oak Bank’s leadership sought a design that reflected the institution’s unique culture, particularly its focus on cultivating meaningful relationships with both customers and employees. “Their employees work hard,” reflected LS3P‘s Laura Miller, whose firm was selected to design the building after a small local competition. “The folks who run Live Oak Bank want to recognize that.”
At the same time, she said, “they wanted it to be somewhat unassuming as well. They want to just quietly go about their business, and be the best at what they do.” The architects’ solution, a two-story U-shaped structure clad in local cypress and high performance glass, gives equal measure to both concerns. Plentiful glazing maximizes daylighting and views for occupants, while the long wood facades are designed to reflect attention back to the natural environment, further integrating the building into the site as the material weathers.
The headquarters building’s previously undeveloped site was a perfect fit for the project brief. Located in the heart of the city, the parcel is nonetheless adjacent to a nature preserve. “It’s a little island of tranquility in the middle of Wilmington,” said Miller. “It’s convenient, but once you enter it, you feel like you’re in a secluded, calm environment.” Unlike the traditional office block, LS3P arranged the interior program in a U shape around a central courtyard. “It’s not the most efficient in terms of square footage, but the bank wanted every single employee to have beautiful views either to the lake or to the grove of live oak trees,” explained Miller. Courtyard terraces, decks, and a full-length second-floor balcony can be used as workspaces on nice days, and further encourage a dialogue between indoors and out.
In light of Live Oak Bank’s desire for a building that blends into the natural environment, the architects gravitated toward wood siding. “We looked at quite a few images with different types of wood,” said Miller. “Cedar is often used for building exteriors, but it’s not something you find naturally here in eastern North Carolina.” Instead, LS3P chose cypress, a local product that ages gracefully. Because they had a contractor on board right away, the architects were able to construct a series of mockup walls on the site even before it was cleared, demonstrating the appearance of the siding at installation, after one year, and after ten years.
Per the client’s wishes, LS3P designed the bank headquarters to provide every employee with daylighting and views. But the large amount of glazing that resulted presented a potential problem with thermal gain, especially on the south-facing facade. The architects selected a high performance glass, further protecting against glare and solar gain with fixed sunshades. Tested through a series of sun studies in Revit, the airfoil-shaped shades are integrated directly into the curtain wall system. Interior motorized blinds provide an additional layer of environmental control.
On the stair towers and at the main entry, the architects offset the wood siding with grey metal panels. “The company is growing so quickly that we were constantly adjusting the design to accommodate more people,” said Miller, noted that the project’s square footage more than doubled between concept and construction. “The two legs of the U got pretty long. We wanted to break up the long horizontal facade, but we didn’t want it to be jarring.” Instead, the metal panels match the curtain wall framing and stucco base, maintaining the project’s neutral palette.
Live Oak Bank’s new home does not look like the headquarters of a national bank. Rather, it looks like a comfortable place to work and visit, a place where ego takes a backseat to service. Fortunately, that is exactly what the project’s clients—and its architects—wanted. “It’s not a typical bank where people just drive through and get their cash,” said Miller. “Their bank is really more about customer service and employee satisfaction.”