Saint-Gobain’s new headquarters is a lesson in employee comfort and productivity.
WRITTEN BY Mary Grauerholz | Photographed By Ryan Smith

John Crowe, President and CEO of Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed Corporations, in front of a glass-enclosed conference room – one of 80+ conference rooms available in the building.

Monica Brogan, manager of sales support at CertainTeed Corporation, knew she had a crackerjack team. But when her department moved last October to the new North American headquarters of CertainTeed’s parent company, Saint-Gobain, she was in for a shock.


The move, from the company’s former headquarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to nearby Malvern, turned out to be a game changer. “We can actually go back and see that the week we moved in there was a huge shift,” Brogan says. “Our performance has increased 150 percent since last year.”


Brogan’s voice carried a note of happy disbelief. “We’ve double- and triple-checked the numbers,” she says with a light laugh. The steep uptick, Brogan attests, had to be the new quarters: its open, collaborative setting, air that simply smells and feels better, lighting without glare, and a high-tech noise-reduction system. The staff is more engaged and more collaborative. As Brogan says, “They’re just more energized.”


Today Saint-Gobain’s sleek new $80 million headquarters, which replaced a dilapidated abandoned life insurance company center, is awash in natural light, filled with the scent of clean air, and almost noiseless—all of it centered on an open architectural plan where the 800-plus employees have a view of the outdoors. The 320,000-sq-ft headquarters debuted on October 15, 2015, the same day that Saint-Gobain was founded 350 years ago by King Louis XIV of France, when he oversaw the construction of the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.


Almost every aspect of the new headquarters, situated on a gently rolling 65-acre suburban property, has been designed for sustainability and employee comfort. 17,000-sq-ft of electronically tintable SageGlass, a Saint-Gobain product, is installed on the building’s west and south sides. The product’s high-tech nature means that SageGlass can reflect three different zones of tinting within one pane of glass; this maximizes daylight and gives employees unobstructed views of the natural environment, which boosts productivity and workplace satisfaction.


Other high-tech Saint-Gobain glass is used in most of the headquarters’ common areas, providing an optimal light-to-solar gain ratio in the summer and warm comfort in cooler weather, while also reducing cooling and heating loads.


High-tech Ecophon® Focus™ Ds and Solo Circle tiles, made by CertainTeed, hang in reception areas and other open spaces. With its content of recycled spun glass and a plant-based binder, the tiles absorb sound and allow employees to speak at normal levels and still be heard, yet retain privacy.


Saint-Gobain ADFORS wall-covering products, installed in the headquarters’ interior, help sanitize the air and repel and kill fungus.


Duct materials by CertainTeed in the HVAC systems improve acoustic performance, air quality, and noise levels. Speakers tucked into the building’s ceiling create a barely perceptible “pink noise” to help conversations stay private without affecting hearing.


Ergonomic workstations, a cafeteria with the feel of home, an amenities-filled gym, and an ever-present visual connection to the outdoors also aid in physical and mental well-being.

Monica Brogan is the manager of sales support at CertainTeed Corporation. 

Stan Gatland, Manager of Building Science Technology at CertainTeed. This entryway gathering space features the combination of SilentFX noising reducing gypsum wallboard and Decoustic Baffles allow for an exposed structure ceiling with acoustical control

Michael Loughery, Director of Corporate Marketing Communications at CertainTeed and Lucas Hamilton, Manager of Building Science Applications at CertainTeed. Saint-Gobain Glass Cool-Lite SKN163II is used in most of the building’s common-area façades providing an optimal light-to-solar gain ratio in summer months and excellent thermal comfort during cooler periods.

“Every element of the site was intended to show how committed we are to providing a comfortable and collaborative work environment for our employees,” said John Crowe, president & CEO of Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed corporations. “We have sought to set a new standard for the modern workplace.” (Of Saint-Gobain’s many subsidiaries, CertainTeed is the largest in North America.)


The new headquarters—with core, shell, and lobby designed by the architectural firm Bernardon and interior by Jacobs—contains more than 40 building products from the portfolio of Saint-Gobain, the world’s largest building materials company. Through its heavy use of Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed products, the new building has created a “living laboratory,” Crowe says, where the company’s research team is able to measure the physical impact the products have on productivity, well-being, and overall satisfaction. The living laboratory is overseen at the nearby Malvern Innovation Center, CertainTeed’s 43,000-sq-ft facility for research and operations teams.


“It’s a ‘multicomfort program,’” says Stan Gatland, manager of building science technology for CertainTeed. “We’re looking at the human experience and overall satisfaction.”


The concept of a multicomfort program first arose at Saint-Gobain more than a decade ago. The idea, Gatland says, is based on five types of comfort, coupled with an aim to minimize environmental impact: thermal comfort, health comfort, acoustic comfort, visual comfort, and modular comfort (promoting accessibility and safety).


Gatland and his colleague, Lucas Hamilton, watched the evolution of the building from a stripped-down frame of steel and concrete, when construction began in spring 2014, to its sophisticated new headquarters.


Hamilton, manager of building science applications for CertainTeed, recalled sensing the dramatic change of headquarters literally in the air. “In the old building, there was no air barrier,” Hamilton says. “It did not have good insulation; it was leaky. People in the new building asked if we were pumping oxygen in.”


Actually, the inquiring employees were on to something. Using the standard for fresh air (set by the American Society of Heating Refrigeration Air Conditioning Engineers), the sealed building is equipped with carbon dioxide sensors to modulate the HVAC system, keeping air at its best. In Hamilton’s words, the solution brings the issue back to the employees: “We’re giving you the fresh-air ventilation you deserve.”


Overall design features create a sense of unity and collaboration: a corporate suite located away from the traditionally status-branded corner office; more than 100 collaborative meeting spaces; an outdoor amphitheater, pond, and stream; walking trails; and a high-performing gym. “The design of our new North American headquarters has significantly changed the ways in which employees go about their professional lives,” Crowe says.


The sustainability theme is clear from a first glance at the headquarters’ front façade, where a water feature utilizes harvested rainwater (as does the irrigation system). Rainwater is collected from a 7,000-sq-ft area of the roof and stored in a 20,000-gal onsite cistern. Commuting has been made simpler and greener, with bicycle storage facilities, preferred parking for low-emission and fuel-efficient vehicles, electric-vehicle charging stations, and a free shuttle to and from the Paoli train station.

A stormwater management plan was implemented on-site, including underground detention system, infiltration trench, and four rain gardens, all to infiltrate stormwater on-site and inhibit impact to local waterways.

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Top: Interior finishes and furnishings contain little or no VOCs. Low-emitting products include adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, flooring, composite wood, and furniture. Middle: In the cafeteria, Ecophon Focus Ds and Symphony F are used to control the acoustics in the large open space. LED lighting integrates into the ceiling grid using the Decoustics Ceilencio LED Suspension System to create a seamless acoustical ceiling. Bottom: An amenities-filled gym, and an ever-present visual connection to the outdoors also aid in physical and mental well-being.

Not so obvious are many other features that contribute to sustainability, with an emphasis on recycled content and water savings. Low-flow plumbing fixtures mean the building is projected to use 40 percent less water than a traditional building, saving 640,000 gallons of water each year. A fiberglass architectural membrane (by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics) in the building’s sweeping front façade is coated with Teflon and is Energy Star certified, and creates a canopy over the entranceway of the headquarters, lowering air conditioning and lighting costs. Reflective roofing (by CertainTeed) lowers energy consumption and minimizes the building’s environmental impact. Mold-resistant insulation from sustainable sources creates a quiet environment and conserves energy and resources. A stormwater management plan is in place, including an underground detention system, infiltration trench, and four rain gardens to infiltrate stormwater onsite and prevent pollution of local waterways.


Major construction often takes a destructive toll on landfills. In fact, construction and demolition waste makes up 17 percent of Pennsylvania’s municipal waste stream. The Saint-Gobain headquarters project took aim at the environmental damage done by this type of waste. An estimated 79 percent of construction and demolition waste was diverted from landfills, and building materials emphasize recycled content and local sourcing. In total, the project’s materials consist of 19 percent recycled content, 16 percent regional materials, and 67 percent FSC-certified wood. Furniture in workstations, for instance, was manufactured in East Greenville, Pennsylvania, and Toronto, Canada.


Interior finishes and furnishings installed in the building contain little or no VOCs. Low-emitting products used in construction include adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, flooring, and composite wood—as well as furniture.


The sustainability theme that is woven throughout the project—including materials, design, and specific strategies—naturally dovetailed into an effort to seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Two sustainability consultants from the Sheward Partnership in Philadelphia—Michael W. Pavelsky, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, associate sustainability director, and Chloe Bendistis, LEED AP BD+C, sustainability project manager—have been with the Saint-Gobain project since mid-2013. Of all the sustainability consultants in the project, Pavelsky and Bendistis are the only ones to have touched every single aspect of the sustainability piece. They are also leading the effort in LEED certification.


Saint-Gobain is seeking a LEED Platinum level certification under the LEED 2009 Core & Shell Rating System (LEED-CS v2009) and a LEED Platinum level certification under the LEED 2009 Commercial Interiors Rating System (LEED-CS v2009).


Bendistis recalled the early days. “We started with an investigation into sustainability, examining goals and strategies, and evaluated all of it and how it would impact Saint-Gobain’s goals and the LEED checklist,” she says.


The most important strategy, Bendistis says, was the decision to install SageGlass on the south and west sides of the building, the locations that were most vulnerable to heat gain in the afternoon. “That was the most significant,” she said. “It improved performance and the energy model and addressed indoor comfort. That was definitely an influential piece.”


Pavelsky says Saint-Gobain’s forward-thinking strategy is a boon to the LEED effort. “At the time this project started in earnest, in mid-2013, the newest version of the LEED Rating System, LEED v4, was not yet out for use by the general public,” Pavelsky says. (All projects registered to pursue LEED certification starting this October will be required to register and seek certification under LEED v4.)


“Saint-Gobain took the leadership position of integrating specific LEED v4 credits into the LEED 2009 certifications,” Pavelsky adds, “to illustrate how their products and approach to designing a 21st-century corporate headquarters drive sustainability further.”


The project’s success regarding employee well-being—and the charting of it through the living laboratory model—is reflected in anecdotal information that suggests greater satisfaction, productivity, and workplace collaboration.


But a data-driven measurement system for employee well-being is pushing the story deeper. Saint-Gobain is collaborating with Associate Professor Ihab Elzeyadi, of the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts, to measure the impact of headquarters’ design on employees with real data. Saint-Gobain plans to have complete results by early 2017, Gatland says.


The new headquarters has received extensive media coverage, and Saint-Gobain predicts the project will make its mark in the annals of innovative commercial construction.


It is also making an impression with the traditionally difficult-to-impress Parisians, who are flocking from Saint-Gobain’s world headquarters to Malvern to see the new building. This is very meaningful to Saint-Gobain. As Carmen Ferrigno, the company’s vice president of communications, says, “When the French come to the U.S. to learn about style and design, you know you’ve done something right.”