The design of the new corporate campus for the Perot Companies, which manages the prominent Texas family’s various businesses, focuses on community and collaboration at an important urban site.
Located on busy Turtle Creek Boulevard just north of downtown Dallas, the three-story Class A project is on a property that had long been eyed by developers for high-rise development. The six-acre (2.4 ha) parcel is encircled by Turtle Creek and the popular Katy Trail, a multiple-user recreation greenway that connects the Turtle Creek residential and commercial neighborhood to the larger Dallas community and downtown.
The Perot family acquired the vacant site in 2011 with a goal of bringing together the family’s business units—real estate, oil and gas, and financial investments—in the heart of Dallas. The design and development team saw early that the site offered an opportunity to create strong connections to the city and community, accentuate company collaboration, and maximize sustainable building and site performance. Ground was broken in July 2014, and occupancy is scheduled for late 2016, bringing together 250 staff from Hillwood’s offices in the Victory Park and Uptown areas near downtown Dallas and Perot Group’s suburban location in Plano.
Turtle Creek is a top-tier creekside, infill development location with a rare six acres (2.4 ha) zoned for 1.5 million square feet (139,000 sq m) of residential, hotel, or Class A office use. Its central position includes good transit options and offers employees shorter commute times than the company’s current locations.
Instead of building to the city’s 240-foot (73 m), 18-story, height limit, Perot is capitalizing on the high value of the parcel through a vision for a more collaborative workplace and a site plan that engages the community and emphasizes green space and natural habitat.
The Perot family and its Hillwood Urban real estate group hired Mithun, a Seattle and San Francisco–based deep-green integrated design firm, to design the new campus, along with Dallas-based BOKA Powell, architect of record, and Dallas- and London-based Balfour Beatty Construction.
The project consists of two three-story buildings totaling 200,000 square feet (18,600 sq m) over structured below-grade parking that can accommodate 430 cars. Rising nearly 60 feet (18 m), the concrete-frame building is organized into two 100-foot-wide (31 m) office wings, with a central connector space that affords direct access to the adjacent landscape. The structure is clad with glass and limestone, inspired by the water and exposed rock of the creek bed that runs along the site.
Stone is also used inside the building and is complemented by wood and steel finishes, including a native oak ceiling above the main dining area that references the site’s live oak trees. One 27-inch-diameter (69 cm) live oak from the site was salvaged for use in creation of the reception desk—a reminder to staff and visitors of the importance of local and regional materials in the design.
The Perot Companies, including the Perot Family Offices and Ross Perot Jr.’s Hillwood real estate companies, have grown from the interests of Ross Perot Sr., which included the founding of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in 1962 and later the information technology services firm Perot Systems. Many will remember Perot Sr.’s third-party candidacy for president in 1992. Today, the largest component of the company is Perot Jr.’s Hillwood company, which is focused on commercial and residential real estate development and investment in North America and Europe.
The new Perot Family Offices are across the street from the senior Perot’s original workplace at IBM during his early career in technology. And his corporate campus in North Dallas for EDS, a company sold to GM in 1984, featured extensive green space—a reference point for the new Perot campus and its benefits in terms of employee heath, well-being, and recruitment.
For the new headquarters, Mithun shaped the site plan to provide a plaza space where hikers and bikers on the Katy Trail can rest—a Perot-financed public space for the community’s enjoyment, linking the building and site. Inside the headquarters, an active stair culture and centralized conference and amenity spaces are designed to enhance team collaboration and employee health. In the lobby, a grand staircase that extends to the third floor invites use by workers and visitors; elevators are tucked to the side, and smaller staircases between levels are located elsewhere. The stairs also connect with the exterior landscape to get employees outdoors. This intended reliance on stairs was one reason the project was limited to three stories: Perot wanted stairs to be the preferred option for moving between floors, and three flights seemed an ideal number that people would easily climb rather than taking elevators.
The interior design also features adjustable workstations, strict adherence to indoor environmental standards, and a café serving fresh, healthy food. The high-performance building envelope and glazing system work in concert with the shade of the surrounding foliage to keep the building comfortable for workers.
Other high-performance building and site strategies include daylight harvesting through a high-performance curtain wall glazing system, use of healthful materials, and preservation of a significant amount of existing foliage.
In addition, a 100,000-gallon (379,000 liter) cistern will collect stormwater for landscape irrigation. It was sized to capture drainage from the 50,000 square feet (4,700 sq m) of building roof area, as well as groundwater from the walls of the underground parking structure, eliminating the need to use potable water to irrigate two acres (0.8 ha) of native plantings throughout the site. Also, runoff from the 16,000-square-foot (1,500 sq m) arrival plaza is captured in bioretention cells that slow and filter the water before it is discharged into Turtle Creek.
Like many urban centers, Dallas experiences the effects of climate change, with recent record rains and storms having a significant impact on low-lying site parcels. With the surging waters of Turtle Creek adjacent to the site, the project team created building and landscape elements that respond to this threat. The development and the design teams worked with site hydrology experts to finesse needed building and site elements to minimize creek flow obstructions during storms, and the landscape creates large infiltration and open areas to help deal with stormwater surges. The building itself is carefully situated to accommodate 500-year storm events.
The development team also worked to connect the building to the adjacent Katy Trail through the shared urban park node created for community use. In addition to providing a respite for trail users, this access portal serves as a gateway to the trail for building occupants. The Hillwood team also completed the restoration of the creekside pedestrian trail at the western edge of the site, creating a network of walking paths for community and employee use.
The new Perot workplace is also designed to enhance collaboration and communication. Essential to that idea is the three-story, glass-enclosed, 5,500-square-foot (511 sq m) central space, providing an inviting, open connection between the two office wings. Amenities are located within this core, including the main staircase to the building elevators, conference rooms, kitchenettes for coffee and snacks, restrooms, and a ground-floor café and dining area. This area is meant to serve as a vibrant intersection where employee interaction will fuel ideas and discussion.
As is the case with many new corporate buildings, key executive offices are integrated into the office space instead of being located in a commanding top-floor penthouse, making leadership more accessible to and directly connected with the rest of the team.
This approach points to a trend in office design—large, narrower floor plates that optimize the daylight available to workers and enable a more direct visual connection with the surrounding site and nature. The building’s location in the tree canopy departs from past eras’ ivory towers with their grand views. The best spaces in this building are preserved for the larger team to share, including the central gathering space, named “the Intersection,” which will also be made available for occasional civic and charity events.
Ultimately, the new campus is designed to address not only changing forces in the climate and site, but also changing forces in the industry. Through its adaptable and highly flexible floor plates, centrally organized amenity and common areas, and sustainability and daylighting strategies, the headquarters building is intended to be a workplace that embraces the present and the future of the interlinked Perot companies. For the Perot family, this project is a statement about moving back to and connecting with the heart of the city and creating a living campus that expresses the company’s core values.
Brendan Connolly is a partner at Mithun, a design firm based in Seattle and San Francisco. Ken Reese is executive vice president at Hillwood Urban and is development director for the firm’s urban projects.