For our first significant project in Silicon Valley I chose Kengo Kuma for a very deliberate reason: Kuma-San has risen to the pinnacle of his profession by blurring the lines between nature and the built environment.
We have a little tradition here at Westbank, where I attempt to distill the essential aspirations of a project into a short essay. What emotions are we trying to elicit, what will the project contribute to its community? How will it inspire?
If I can clearly capture the intent, the manifesto becomes the rudder that keeps us on course and serves as a way to look back years later and judge how well we have done. Buried within these manifestos, the design direction we provide our architectural collaborators can also be found.
At Park Habitat, the intent was clear from the onset. For our first significant project in Silicon Valley I chose Kengo Kuma for a very deliberate reason: Kuma-San has risen to the pinnacle of his profession by blurring the lines between nature and the built environment. His practice is dedicated to making buildings less definitive or solid and more ephemeral. In essence, creating a particular condition more than a particular architecture.
The first time I walked San Jose, it was clear that we needed to introduce a generous dose of nature back into the community. San Jose was once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, home to a verdant landscape of orchards, meadows and wetlands. As a community, we need to find opportunities to begin repairing one of the planet’s most beautiful natural environments, by introducing a new typology that essentially says that humans cannot be happy if they are divorced from nature.
A few months into conceptual design, we entered a global pandemic. Prior to this, we had been actively exploring the concept of wellness in all of our buildings with considerable success, most recently at our Oakridge project. With the pandemic, this took on a much greater urgency.
The Bay Area’s remarkable climate is envied globally. The ability to work, play, eat, exercise and explore outdoors for much of the year, is something only a very small percentage of the world’s land mass allows. In that light, it’s remarkable how over the last few generations workspace has been built ostensibly with the prime objective of separating humanity from nature.
When it comes to workspace, our primary tools are air quality, sunlight, vegetation, control over our environment, vertical transportation, mechanical systems, air filtration, and a host of others. But none, I think are as important as allowing occupants of the building to be either working in nature, surrounded by nature or in very close proximity to nature.
I do not want to work inside when I can work outside. The team’s mandate was to maximize the amount of time per year that the workspace at Park Habitat can function without conditioned air, while at the same time blurring the line between spaces that are inside or outside. Most importantly, how do we use vegetation to improve the indoor air quality so that the quality of air is as close as possible to the same condition as you would breathe outdoors.
Other traditions of Japanese design aesthetic, such as layering and the use of natural materials like wood, clearly distinguish this project as the first of a few that we hope will spark a renaissance in Silicon Valley. By establishing a much higher standard of city-building, we hope that expectations will be raised forever.
Finally, as with all of the projects we are constructing in San Jose, Park Habitat when looked at as part a larger initiative, will achieve net zero carbon life cycle status – on completion it will be as if the project had never been constructed. If we are going to begin repairing the damage humanity has inflicted on the world, this should be the starting point.
This project is the start of a much broader, more ambitious initiative, but the overarching goal is to create a new generation of thoughtful and beautiful projects that inspire. When turning the following pages, I hope that you are inspired by what the team has come up with. At the end of the day, that is how we hope our work will be judged.