One of four independently operated Dunn companies, Dunn Building Company has been a construction leader in Birmingham for more than 135 years. When the firm decided to relocate its corporate headquarters from suburban Birmingham to a downtown site adjacent to its parent and sister companies, they selected GS&P to develop a design that represented the core of who they are, how they work and the quality results they produce.
Spurred by growth and the desire to be more collaborative with Dunn Construction Company, Dunn Investment Company and Dunn Real Estate, the construction front-runner sought an office environment that showcased their expertise, as well as expressed their way of working with clients, vendors and among themselves. Centering on that goal, GS&P set about designing a metal building structure—clad in masonry and insulated metal panels—that not only communicated the Dunn Building Company brand, but also highlighted the type of work they delivered to their clients. The design would also incorporate recommendations outlined in a workplace strategy conducted by GS&P.
“The workplace strategy was really the beginning of the entire process,” says senior interior designer Julie Roquemore. “GS&P was asked to evaluate all of the Dunn companies and assess their physical connectivity as well as how they interacted with one another. It became clear during the visioning process with the Dunn leadership team that one of their main goals was for all the Dunn companies to be connected at the downtown campus location. This location, which they already owned, housed three of the four businesses.
“Dunn Building was the only company operating off campus in a leased space in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills. It was a pretty uninspiring space, with low ceilings, poor lighting and standard tenant-grade carpets and ceiling tile. Aside from their logo, a few pictures on the wall, and a TV screen that showed their work, there was very little to indicate they were a design-build contractor.
“Their off-campus location prompted Dunn to evaluate their real estate holdings and develop a long-term vision of how all of the companies could be in the one location within the Birmingham city limits. As part of the workplace strategy, we studied the value of past renovations and expansions, which had provided adequate space for employees. However, Dunn Building is a design-build contractor, and they were more than ready to showcase their skills in a physical building that was their own. It was ultimately determined that Dunn had enough property on campus to move them into a new building with a stand-alone identity.”
A Unique Design-Build Collaboration
Partnered with GS&P, Dunn Building Company—both the client and the contractor—sought a design-build team approach that utilized collaboration to create a project that met their own schedule as well as their high-quality standards and budgetary demands. From the onset, the essence of the project revolved around showcasing the pre-engineered metal building (PEMB) structure. To do this effectively, the GS&P team worked closely with Dunn’s in-house PEMB design specialist, and 3-D models were shared regularly between the two groups to expedite delivery of the structure.
“Dunn Building Company is unique in the sense that they have an on-staff PEMB specialist to assist with preliminary 3-D modeling, and this fostered a lot of collaboration during the schematic and design development phase,” says Roquemore. “Being able to work together and coordinate all of that information up front—as opposed to completely designing the building from beginning to end, and then giving it to the contractor—allowed Dunn to procure the pre-engineered metal building while the remaining design and documentation were being completed.”
Ongoing communication and collaboration with the design-builder’s subcontractor team was also critical to the design. For example, since the high-volume portion of the design featured exposed ceilings and infrastructure, it was vital to communicate that vision to the mechanical subcontractor, who was then able to coordinate in Revit building design software to communicate the concept to the team installing the components.
“Working with Dunn in a design-build scenario is a good example of how a project should be approached,” says project architect Jennifer Carr. “Teamwork and collaboration played a key role in the project’s success and truly made a difference in the quality of the design. For instance, when you look at the ceiling, you can see how beautifully it lines up, and that’s because the superintendent really stayed on top of how the components were installed and exposed. And this directly ties back to the success of the design-build team approach.”
Highlighting Construction Expertise
Where other construction companies were either severely hurt or put out of business altogether by the recent economic downturn, Dunn Building Company managed to weather the recession thanks in part to its specialized skills in the industrial market. One of GS&P’s core challenges was to create a design solution that provided a showcase for those particular skills by incorporating them into the new headquarters.
“Dunn wanted to demonstrate to clients their ability to construct a quality project by integrating certain construction components into the building,” says Carr. “A good example of this is the way we highlighted the tilt-up concrete construction at the building’s front entry. The design also exposes the PEMB steel framing as well as the electrical and mechanical systems as opposed to hiding those elements.
“Dunn Building constructs a lot of pre-engineered metal buildings, and they wanted their headquarters to be a sophisticated example of the building type. So we incorporated brick and glass into the design to enhance the overall appearance while maintaining the building’s structural roots. The successful integration of these materials essentially shows clients a more innovative and decorative approach to cladding the PEMB structure. And it’s especially helpful in allowing them to visualize this combination for their own operation, since many of Dunn’s industrial clients have a small office component that supports their primary industrial building.”
For the building’s exterior, materials such as brick were specifically selected to utilize the PEMB components as well as complement adjacent campus buildings. The brick not only ties in with the existing campus aesthetic, but also blends with the nearby historic single-story brick buildings in that sector of the city.
In the building’s interior, neutral finishes and colors were selected to highlight the volume and construction details. Stained concrete flooring included in selected areas serves as an example of the outstanding workmanship that Dunn Building Company delivers to its clients.
Due to the nature of the company’s daily activities, Dunn Building required the majority of their staff to be in private offices. To accomplish this and still maintain an open feel, the design team took advantage of the central high bay to include clerestory windows, which bring natural light to all areas. In addition, ceilings were lowered above the office areas at the building’s perimeter to allow for more intimate spaces.
“The design of the “lean-to” really supports the offices on the long sides of the building,” says Carr, “and the overall design reveals industrial elements such as girts in the walls and purlins in the ceiling, so you see exactly how the building is supported. In a nutshell, you get to experience the ‘bones’ of the structure, and just how elegant the design of a mechanical system can be when showcased as a feature.”
In addition to highlighting Dunn’s expertise via the display of industrial components, GS&P’s design incorporates Dunn Building Company’s image and brand, both in the building and on the site. For example, the company’s signature red was used as an accent in the furniture as well as on select accent walls.
A Sustainable Connector
Planned for LEED Silver certification, Dunn Building’s new corporate headquarters incorporates multiple sustainable features including an energy-efficient building envelope, stormwater collection bioswales, low-flow fixtures that reduce water usage by 20 percent and energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems. The project also integrates permeable asphalt paving with an 18-inch stormwater reservoir beneath the parking area. In addition, 30 percent of the building materials used—including the brick, steel, carpet and doors—were obtained from within 500 miles of the project site.
“Dunn’s campus teeters on the edge of the industrial area of downtown,” explains Roquemore. “So by relocating their headquarters to this area, they’ve created a new, clean, energy-efficient and sustainable downtown structure, which has not only helped revitalize their campus, but has also reignited their connection to the city.
“The Dunn companies are known for being strong business and community leaders in Birmingham, and one of their key objectives was to create a sustainable facility that reinforced their commitment to the community. This goal has achieved that by bringing jobs to downtown, and giving a new lease on life to the aesthetic of the southeast corner of town.”
Along with fortifying its connection with the surrounding community, Dunn also desired that its sustainable workplace foster a healthy environment for its most valued asset—its employees. To help accomplish this, energy-efficient lighting and controls, along with efficient water-use strategies, were employed to benefit employees as well as reduce utility costs. These methods are featured and discussed as examples for Dunn’s clients to explore for their own projects. An open break and kitchen area with abundant natural light serves as a pleasant and informal gathering area for employees, and so the amenity could easily be shared by other personnel, it was located in a section of the building closest to one of the sister companies.
Reinforcing Dunn Building Company’s brand, vision and culture, the new 6,600-square-foot, award-winning metal and masonry building highlights what the firm is renowned for—beautiful construction and attention to detail. The result is a design that reflects and encourages communication and collaboration within the Dunn team—as well as with clients and vendors—and serves as a stellar example of sustainable design and construction.
“We are thrilled with the new building and how beautifully it expresses the Dunn Building Company brand,” concludes Andrew Edwards, Dunn Building Company president. “By placing our new office building on campus, we are able to communicate much more effectively with our sister companies and parent company because face-to-face communication trumps voicemails and emails. Our campus location also helps the community connect the dots about Dunn’s brand and services in Birmingham, and the building itself is a perfect example of the high standards to which we hold ourselves.”