“groninger saw the new headquarters as a front door to the United States,” says Scott Swanson, GS&P project architect. “The company envisioned a facility that would welcome its German workforce while showcasing its abilities to current and prospective clients. Their former Charlotte facility was in a leased space that was typical of what you see in many industrial parks across America. It was very utilitarian and had no branding, aside from a small green sign on the front of the building that said ‘groninger.’ There was very little natural light and no quality views to the exterior. The facility wasn’t at all in keeping with the company’s image abroad, and groninger wanted a new U.S. base that was more in line with its German facilities.
“Scott Wilson, a former employee of GS&P, was the project designer and set the overall concept for the new headquarters. We were awarded the project through Scott, who shortly thereafter accepted a position as the project executive for the builder—CoxSchepp Group. It ended up working well because the client was able to benefit from a true team approach.”
Employing American Design Solutions
After closely studying groninger’s European facilities, including the company’s new headquarters in Crailsheim, Germany, the GS&P team began developing American design solutions to create a facility that appeared, felt and performed like its German counterparts. Not only would the new building host groninger’s U.S. headquarters, but also its expanded engineering, production and assembly areas, as well as an in-house training center and state-of-the-art showroom.
“The design team was challenged to meet the needs of a European enterprise,” reflects Swanson, “and the first place we started was with the company’s image. We knew we had to design a building that its employees would immediately recognize from the street. It was also extremely important to the company that a German employee felt completely at home in this facility. So we worked closely with executives to develop design solutions that not only met groninger’s architectural preferences, but also allowed for American construction practices to be followed, which would greatly improve the overall quality and efficiency.”
GS&P’s design solutions included the use of architectural pre-cast concrete for the building’s façade as opposed to hard-coat stucco. Metal shading devices, a curtain wall entry and other distinguishing components were used to give the facility’s exterior the distinctive appearance groninger desired, while providing higher quality and faster construction at a lower cost.
“The traditional German way to build this type of facility is to construct a masonry building and then cover it in hard-coat stucco,” explains Swanson. “But that has long-term maintenance implications. By using pre-cast wall panels—which have a couple of inches of insulation between the pre-cast concrete—we were able to give groninger an energy-efficient building that will stand the test of time. And that’s a huge advantage over what would have been constructed in Germany.
“Another element that groninger appreciated was the fact that we provided a low-slope roof for the facility. From an overall maintenance and energy standpoint, we’ve given them a better solution that’s far more economical. We also paid close attention to height and width, and keeping things in the right shape when it came to the proportions of the building. When you put all of these elements together and compare the U.S. headquarters to groninger’s German facilities, it fits right in. You could easily take out one of its European buildings and replace it with ours, and you really wouldn’t know the difference.”
Reflecting the Brand
Of utmost importance to the German machinery maker was that the new headquarters reflect who they are and what they do. As engineers of precise equipment and tools, one of groninger’s key objectives was to design a building that featured fine detailing and utilized quality materials in a contemporary style. To achieve this, the design team carefully studied the machines the company manufactures and developed a concept that reflected the polish and precision of groninger’s machinery throughout the facility’s interiors.
“A connection to its machinery was a major design trait that groninger wanted to bring from Germany into the interior of this building,” adds GS&P senior interior designer Julie Roquemore. “We were challenged in our detailing to use a lot of similar materials, and to do it in a modern, crisp way—just like their machines are designed. The use of stainless steel, aluminum and glass—along with a high-contrast color scheme—distinctly relates to groninger’s machineries and the company’s European aesthetic.”
Reflecting its cutting-edge equipment, groninger USA’s interiors include a dramatic two-story glass lobby that provides a visual connection to the various departments and allows employees to experience views to the exterior from different vantage points within the building. The striking lobby space also features a custom display wall that highlights pharmaceutical and cosmetic products that are the end result of groninger’s manufacturing process. The building’s open office area includes an exposed structural deck and distinctive floating acoustical ceiling elements. Terrazzo floor coverings, textured wall coverings, matte and metallic paint, and clear glass doors that lead into the office areas provide a clean aesthetic that complements the building’s architectural details. To allow glare-free, natural light to permeate the building, clerestory windows were placed throughout the facility.
Located on the building’s first floor, a state-of-the-art showroom allows groninger to showcase the high-tech machines it manufactures. The unique display area can be used for test setups or to present the company’s products to prospective clients.
“The showroom is finished out like an industrial space,” says Swanson. “Instead of taking clients onto the manufacturing floor and interrupting operations, groninger can show a customer a new product and demonstrate how it works in the showroom. It also serves as a central space for public events. Because it’s situated between the manufacturing and office spaces, we incorporated a large steel rollup door that opens into the manufacturing space so you can easily transport a machine from the floor to the showroom.”
A Pleasant and Collaborative Environment
In addition to providing the necessary office, production and distribution spaces, one of groninger’s primary goals was to provide a pleasant environment for its employees that promotes creativity, productivity and collaboration. GS&P’s innovative design accomplished this fundamental objective in a number of ways, which included providing all workers with access to natural light and exterior vistas, along with views that connect the manufacturing space to the office workspaces.
“It was extremely important to groninger that the bond between its research/design and engineering/production teams be strengthened by creating a visual connection between the office and manufacturing areas,” says Swanson. “The building is almost L-shaped, and wherever we had the opportunity, we created large openings between the office functions and the manufacturing functions. It strikes quite a contrast to the previous facility, which only had a small window that visually connected those two areas. In this building, the connection is really prominent.”
Also augmenting the worker-friendly environment, generous breakrooms and a second-floor balcony give employees a place to relax during the day. Fostering collaboration as well as education, conference rooms and an in-house training room were also incorporated into the design.
To maintain interior climate control, the design team used energy-efficient glazing throughout the facility, utilizing different types of glass according to the building’s elevation.
“The north elevation of the building has a lot of windows that are situated high up in the wall,” says Swanson. “In this area we were able to use clear, uncoated glass and let 100 percent of the light come through because there’s no direct sunlight reaching that side of the building. However, we used extremely high-performance glass on the building’s west and south elevations, which are exposed to the direct sun. By using the highest-performing solar heat glazing available, the facility’s temperature remains very comfortable.
“The mechanical systems in the new building are also a huge upgrade from the previous facility. The offices, showroom and displays all have their own thermostats, while the manufacturing side has its own unit. Being in Charlotte, cooling is tremendously important, and the new systems we’ve incorporated into the building not only make it comfortable but also extremely energy-efficient.”
Featuring 15,000 square feet of office space and 15,000 square feet of manufacturing and distribution space, groninger’s U.S. headquarters reflects the company’s European image via a modern aesthetic that’s uniquely inspired by the high-precision equipment the company manufactures. The leading-edge facility also demonstrates that American designers and contractors are more than able to meet the needs of a multifaceted European operation.
“The design of groninger’s new headquarters truly speaks to the company’s European roots and manufacturing focus, says Swanson. “We worked hard to design a space that’s impressive to clients, inspiring to employees and beneficial to the company’s services and operations.”
“At the end of the day, we desired a very synergistic relationship between the client, the builder and the design firm—and that’s exactly what we achieved,” adds Scott Wilson, vice president at CoxSchepp Group and original designer of the project. “The internal design team—which I was a part of at that time—worked to define and distill the quintessential essence of a German firm. We came together and succinctly found the right design approach—not only ergonomically, but also from a sense of finishes and the personality of the client. The design is extremely sensitive to a German employee’s aesthetic sensibilities and work environment, and, according to our client, it made transitions from Germany to the United States very easy.”
“The expansion of our U.S. headquarters helps us provide better service, products and consulting both to current customers and new customers,” says Lothar Burger, managing director of groninger USA. “GS&P worked with us to understand what we do, who we are and the type of environment we need to support our clients, goals and growing staff. Our new headquarters is the ideal space to help groninger move into the future, further develop our services and grow our North American presence.”