By Gabe Wong, AIA
From the December 2021 Issue
Determining what goes into designing a highly technical, 54,000-square-foot factory is no easy feat—and the complexity grows when the goal of that design is not only to humanize the space, but to positively impact processes and execution for scientists, technicians, and executives alike. Such was the challenge for the Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects (SNHA) team with the new build of Lightbox—a major producer of lab-grown diamonds now located in Gresham, OR. Throughout the process, our team at SNHA not only worked to design a great facility—we gathered insights that can serve as a blueprint for manufacturing workspaces to come. Lightbox opened the facility in Fall 2020.
Integrating Seamless Design
The client’s vision focused on simplicity throughout and a welcoming aesthetic that encouraged community with high quality finishes and exposure to natural light.
Drawing inspiration from the Lightbox product itself, we looked to parallel the intricacies of the diamond manufacturing process by considering every layer of the space to create a simple yet edgy design. A fritted glass curtain wall with metal panels along with pre-fabricated wall panels adorn the bold exterior, while a steel framework creates a streamlined, flexible production area by which offer organization system for all equipment as well as an essential power and cooling infrastructure.
The placement of glazing purposefully provides natural light in interactive workspaces, while metal panels are used for private or gallery spaces. Public facing and office interiors are light-filled due to the careful siting of the open office space and lounge along the glazing. White interior paint promotes the brightness of the space while allowing the use of color to be selectively emphasized throughout and on surrounding furniture. Access to maintenance and mechanical connections are masked by raised access floor systems in the manufacturing aisles to complement the clean aesthetic.
Deliberate design that streamlines workflow while creating a sense of community is key for this production facility. Architects and designers assessed how to seamlessly integrate office areas within a highly organized production floor to allow equal accessibility for administration, lab technicians, and production workers. This egalitarian work environment promotes inclusivity to retain and attract quality professionals.
By creating centrally located open spaces at Lightbox, the SNHA team created a design flow that further enhances the positive office culture, allowing for a more collaborative, interactive experience for workers and in turn a more rock-solid experience for the industry and the end-user.
High production at low impact to the environment has become increasingly more important as building owners and their architectural and design teams are considering sustainability an integral component. This means identifying how to access high-quality electrical infrastructure to meet both immediate and future-proof power requirements for the facility.
For Lightbox, this includes operating as a net-zero facility powered only by renewable hydroelectric energy and integrating a design process to optimize mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems within the structure and architecture of the building. In mission-critical facilities where MEP systems are vital to operation, sustainability is balanced with performance, ease of maintenance, and the comfort and enjoyment of internal and external communities.
At the heart of the facility, we designed a central command center that monitors for water, gas, and energy consumption to allow for analysis and optimization of equipment operation for utility expenses. To deliver services efficiently, a structural framing system and raised floor platforms were designed to support and organize a network of ductwork, piping, electrical, and specialty gas to the processing equipment while still allowing for maintenance and service of the equipment itself.
Due to the mild climate and lower dewpoint in Oregon, fluid coolers in conjunction with a hydronic condenser water loop is used to cool the manufacturing plant rather than conventional chilled water to minimize energy usage for the mechanical system. The exchange and capture of the excess heat from the plant and heat recovery is also utilized for the office in conjunction with a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system for individual space temperature control to save additional energy. To further contribute to sustainable practices for the building, we included non-chemical water treatment for processed water system, water saving technology for the evaporative cooling, and Corzan piping from recycled plastic.
Lighting also plays a key role for Lightbox; this means employing systems with automatic controls throughout the building and site to maximize efficiency (e.g., timeclocks, automatic daylight dimming, occupancy sensors, dawn-to-dusk controls). With lighting control in place to save resources, user comfort is the next major consideration. At Lightbox, indirect lighting with hidden light sources prevents glare and eye discomfort. Direct light sources use diffused lenses that maintain eye comfort while providing brightly lit spaces to perform focused tasks. Additional task lighting is provided in cleanrooms and inspection areas, precisely where it is needed.
SNHA is grateful for a client that was forward-thinking and receptive to our “out of the box” ideas and for the opportunity to design a new-build two-story, 54,000-square-foot facility with access to high-quality renewable electrical infrastructure for the staff of 60 engineers and technicians to manufacture lab grown diamonds in the U.S. Looking to the future, it is facilities like Lightbox that exemplify how social responsibility, the environment, and the team’s well-being should be the leading drivers of designing efficient, renewable, and aesthetically pleasing manufacturing spaces moving forward.
Wong is an architect at Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects (SNHA), a Chicago and London-based full-service architectural firm specializing in the planning and design of civic, cultural, educational, and mission critical environments. He has had the opportunity to work on the world’s tallest building, mega exhibition centers, multiple mixed-use towers, and cultural facilities. He harnesses his expertise to work on cutting-edge advanced manufacturing facilities and innovative data centers. Wong earned both his Bachelor and Master degrees in Architecture from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
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