The World’s Most Precious Resource: Water

Nicole Ownes

Nicole Owens

by Nicole M. Owens

When it comes to sustainability, there is no mission more critical than the world’s most precious resource: water.

Xylem, a company dedicated to developing drinking and wastewater systems to improve water quality and accessibility in more than 150 countries around the world, felt it imperative that its new corporate headquarters express its values through design.

The result is a 70,000sf facility that has earned the USGBC’s LEED Gold certification. Located in Westchester County about 30 miles north of Manhattan, Amenta Emma architects worked with the client on many strategies to achieve this outcome.

First and foremost was site. The team evaluated 17 different locations before settling on a location in Rye Brook, allowing the company to adapt a 1986-era building. The location, according to the project design architect Charles Cannizzaro, “had the right proximity to high density housing, public transportation, and all the things that you need to achieve a higher level of LEED certification that you can’t necessarily design in or buy.”

For the interior design, the design team searched high and low for locally sourced materials for the many unique details in the building, all of which portray the company mission and are sustainable. Almost 30% of building materials and products were extracted or manufactured within 500 miles of the project, and 17% of total building materials used were recycled. Of wood-based building materials, 50% were certified in accordance with the principles and criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council.

The resulting design uses color, materials, finishes, furnishings, and décor that suggest the clean water theme in a series of bright, refreshing spaces and illustrates the hydrologic cycle with an unfolding display of graphic imagery and words that tell the company story along the wall panels. For example, the floor of the reception area has mirrored chips in it, so it shimmers like the surface of the water.  The reception area features sheet acrylic with tiny bubbles, suggesting water, while carpet designs and textures are abstract renderings of cascading waterfalls.

Careful attention was paid to reducing water use and optimal energy performance, including a commitment to buy some power, 8 kwh/sf, from renewable energy sources. But Xylem wasn’t satisfied just with inspiring interiors. The company insisted on design solutions that would help sustain its employees, for example, sit-stand desks, and bike storage to encourage cycling. Company leadership also wanted the design to invite employees to leave their desks throughout the day to mingle with colleagues. There is an assortment of open spaces to encourage this interaction, including a popular ping-pong zone, says Cannizzaro.

Xylem, which is named for a tissue in plants that conducts water and nutrients upward from the root, has inspired a cultural shift that gets people up and moving, motivating them to solve some of the world’s most pressing resource issues.

Nicole M. Owens is marketing associate at Hartford, Conn.