Season 1:

Episode 3

American Building Podcast: Jon Pickard | Hosted by Michael Graves Architecture

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Our third guest in the American Building series is Jon Pickard. Jon is a Co-founder and Principal at Pickard Chilton, an award-winning architectural design firm based in Connecticut. We are talking about 2+U (also known as the Qualtrics Tower), the studio’s recently completed 690,000-square foot next-generation office complex in the heart of downtown Seattle. 2+U consists of 2 separate towers of 38 stories and 18 stories joined atop a common podium. It has 19,000 square feet of retail and restaurants over 2 floors, as well as an underground parking garage. It tops out at 530 feet, offering stunning views of Elliot Bay. The developer of the project was Skanska USA and the total project budget was $392 million.

Atif Qadir: Interview Questions

1:39 – You started Pickard Chilton with your partner, William Chilton. Before that, you were working at a firm just down the street from your current office, Cesar Pelli & Associates. What did you take from that experience and used as you were launching your own firm?

3:18 – Your client roster over the years has grown to include a Who’s Who of corporate America, from ExxonMobil to Uber. How did you grow into the specialty of corporate office design and how did you gain such a large and diverse group of office clients?

4:59 – The architect selection process for 2+U was a Design Hackathon. Can you talk about what that process was like?

6:34 – In this context would you say that Skanska was not a typical client in terms of their selection process?

7:44 – Over the past 5 years, there has been a lot of construction work in downtown Seattle, including demolition of Rainier Square Mall, the restoration of Town Hall, and the construction of F5 Tower. The demolition of the viaduct, an elevated highway, is what really made this site valuable. Why was that the case?

9:24 – The name 2+U refers to?

10:57 – The project takes up an entire city block with the exception of one corner occupied by the former Diller Hotel. What kind of a relationship did you want to create between this 4-story Italianate building and your almost 40-story tall modern office complex?

12:12 – Talk through the site considerations, including grade, sunlight, and shadows.

13:56 – In addition to all of the natural considerations, can you speak about some of the legal and zoning considerations as well?

15:15 – Skanska described the ground floor as needing to be “very porous, not just for people in the building, but for everyone in the neighborhood.” They included a public component for performance art and a landscaped open space for recreation. All in, the bill for that totaled over $12 million. Why do you think this cost was necessary?

16:47 – There is also an interior component to the ground floor. That is the Urban Village, an 85-foot-high volume featuring two floors of restaurant and retail. Is this area intended for the office tenants as well as the public?

18:46 – The Urban Village is bounded by W-shaped stilt-like columns that are both structural and sculptural. What led you to this design decision and what was the interplay with the office layout above?

20:50 – I learned at your office last week that they were built offsite in British Columbia and the process of getting these massive columns to the site was fascinating. Could you talk about some of the craziest logistical parts of making that all happen?

22:47 – Office buildings are among the most energy-intensive. For example, 2+U included 6,000 tons of steel, 280,000 square feet of glass, and 250 miles of wire. How did you integrate green building practices into the design of this building?

24:33 – Would you consider some of those strategies you just mentioned passive building strategies?

24:47 – What elements of the northwest environment were you able to incorporate into the design?

26:37 – The office floors have 18,000- to 30,000-square-foot floorplates, 10-foot ceilings, and column-free spaces. What kind of tenants did you have in mind when designing this?

29:18 – We’ve seen the rise and fall of open office over the past few years. It sounds like the perspective you took in the design was one that was less about the office design trend of the moment, for example the open office, than one that is more holistic about what someone would want. How did that influence the way you designed this project?

32:52 – As the design architect of the building, did you have some direction or some say in the fit-out of the individual floors, or those are generally left to the tenant?

33:20 – Offices today seem to include a laundry list of features: a cafe with an open kitchen area, phone booths, meditation rooms, napping areas, and even foosball. How do architects make sense of all of this and include it in a logical, cohesive way?

37:12 – Skanska made the decision to develop this with no pre-leasing. From your experience in working with a wide variety of clients, is this a reflection of intelligent planning, insanity or both?

38:54 – From that perspective, without the benefit of signed leases, Skanska invested in a holographic leasing center. What exactly is that?

40:51 – Relevant to the investment that Skanska made in holographic visualization, would you say that architecture firms need to make a similar investment?

41:35 – Skanska is employing very high-touch concierge-style management. What does hotel-style office mean?

44:15 – This project began for Pickard Chilton in 2014. Skanska got permits in 2016 and construction ended in 2019. What are some of the challenges in staffing a large project that sprawls over 5 years as team members come and go?

46:08 – Pickard Chilton worked with many outside firms on this project. Who were they and what did they do?

48:13 – Pickard Chilton is working on another large office building in Bellevue with Skanska, called The Eight. No preleases, again. How do you compare that project to this one?

52:12 – Where does 2+U fit into the overall portfolio of Pickard Chilton and in the arc of your own career as an architect?


Audience Questions

53:35 – This is a fascinating story of collaboration between developer and architect who are very  like-minded. How do you go about sorting through the asks that you may have of clients to make sure you and they are like-minded?

57:28 – The firms that have come out of Cesar Pelli’s office have always been impressive, not only because of the consideration of the urban fabric and the quality of the architecture but also because of what must have been an office culture. Has your experience at Cesar Pelli influenced the way you have shaped the nurturing culture at your own firm to encourage the longevity of your staff?

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