There is an enormous gap between Israeli high-tech and the local construction industry, which is based on very low-tech and churns out thousands of ugly, unremarkable buildings every year. So it’s no wonder that many of the country’s tech companies are located in buildings that are not particularly smart.
But changes are afoot. Check Point Software Technologies has turned the facade of its building on Hahaskala Boulevard in southeastern Tel Aviv into a “green wall,” organic shapes break up the straight lines of the SAP Israel building in Ra’anana, and many high-tech companies are housed in architect Ron Arad’s two-legged Totzeret Haaretz Tower on Derekh Hashalom Street in Tel Aviv.
Intel, whose 650 million shekel ($187 million) building was unveiled in September, wanted not a loud, prominent architectural icon but rather a smart, and technology-rich box — what the company modestly calls “the smartest building in the world.” The company’s ambition paid off: The building was awarded the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certificate, the American standard for green construction.
The building is located in Kiryat Arye, a bland office park, cut off from the urban fabric of Petah Tikva, on a campus that includes trees and gardens as well as employee parking lots. Yaniv Garty, the CEO of Intel Israel, and Tamara Friedman, the Smart Buildings Program Manager at Intel Europe, explain how the building originated. Garty says that Intel headquarters was scattered among several buildings in Petah Tikva, and the company decided to concentrate its activity in a single building. (Intel also has centers in Haifa, in Jerusalem and in Kiryat Gat, in southern Israel.)
The building was designed by the Haifa firm Mochly-Eldar Architects, whose simple and functional style is reflected in the Intel building as well. The construction was done by Afcon Holdings. The building has 75,000 square meters of floor space, nearly half of it below ground level, and 10 stories that are aboveground. Around 2,000 people work in it now, but it was designed to accommodate and additional 700 workers. The nearest train station is a 10-minute walk away. There’s a bus stop outside the building, and there’s also a covered parking area for bicycles, with chargers for electric bikes.
A digital screen with the height of the waves
The outside of the building, which is shaped like a simple box, is covered with windows of varying size, large on the northern exposure and smaller and nearly opaque on the southern side, to block out the fierce Israeli sun. The simple design of the building is no coincidence. “We wanted to be as low-key as possible. On the facades is a digital screen, which is informative rather than commercial. It has scenes of the building and statistics such as the height of the waves or the travel time to Tel Aviv,” says Garty.
Architect Dagan Mochly, who designed the building, says, “Our idea was to create a white box, and not to compete in Mr. Israel, because that often harms the users. The bottom line: The building should be a second home for the employees. Fashions changes and buildings that are ‘in’ are likely to look pathetic over time.” He says the building was placed at an angle that creates climatic comfort. “We lifted the entrance floor, so that they would have a view of fields, and wouldn’t see the highway.”
The parking lots surrounding the building have 1,400 guest and employee spaces. Garty and Friedman say that only around 30 percent of employees commute by car. There are no reserved spots, except for pregnant women and people with disabilities.
Informational screens are located throughout the building, showing up-to-date travel times comparing private cars with public transportation, for example. There are also three restaurants and a café on the ground floor.
Between the fourth and the 10th floors is an atrium, topped by skylights that let in natural light. It has stairs which many employees use instead of the elevator.
A game room, an optician and a nail salon
There are work stations that can be adjusted for work sitting or standing. Most of the interior, is painted in shades of white, gray and black, but there are also lounge corners with brightly colored furniture.
There are also 21st-century phone booths for making cellphone calls, as well as noise-insulated armchairs placed near windows, for quiet contemplation of the view outside.
“The design is minimalistic,” says Garty, whose partner is architect Irit Axelrod, who favors a clean and minimalistic line. “We thought the employees would bring the color. The building was created for them. In planning the seating areas we created an open space that’s not completely open. Every employee can go to a place where they won’t be seen.
The building’s piece de resistance is the services floor, which includes a fitness room, a hairdresser, a physiotherapy room, a first-aid room with a nurse and a physician, a nail salon, an optician, a game room, a music room, a synagogue, a computer lab and more. There is also a very large balcony, where some employees go to work with a laptop.
During the building tour Tamara Friedman, the Smart Buildings Program Manager at Intel Europe, uses the Intel Smart Campus app, which gives real-time information for every floor, such as how many employees are in the cafeteria, how many are in the gym and how many free spaces there are in the parking lot. The app was part of the design process, based on Garty’s requirements.
“We looked at sophisticated and complex buildings such as hospitals, factories and prisons. We created a list of 300 experiences and services that would be available to employees, and they’re included in the app. Using the app, employees can find their car in the parking lot, order various services, change the lighting in the conference rooms, find out about the traffic situation in the vicinity, see the menus for the building’s restaurant and unlock and lock their personal lockers. Sanitation and maintenance services are also “smart.”
“We have sensors on garbage cans, soap containers and toilet paper shelves, we can see when every item has been used up,” says Friedman. “The sophistication and innovation that are part of the building don’t necessarily save time and effort. There were several moments when we tried to understand how to operate a certain feature of the app, or when it had problems itself. These delays raise the question as to whether all the sophisticated apps make the employees’ lives more pleasant.”
Sam Alfasi of WAWA, a Green Building Consultant, accompanied the construction. He says the designers relied on thermal simulations and the building was designed to keep out the solar radiation. “External shading makes it possible to hide the sun when we want. A shading system changes and is adapted to environmental conditions, to allow the entry of natural light into the building, but not direct penetration of the sun’s rays. In 95 percent of the building they get natural light. It has 14,000 sensors, which enable the artificial lighting to work in accordance with the natural light.
“The design was also aimed at being able to keep the air quality in the building high. The moment there’s an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide, a situation that can cause headaches, the air-conditioning system reacts and introduces fresh air, to increase the amount of oxygen. The smart systems can also tell when there’s someone in a room or in a specific area, and accordingly to turn on the light or change the temperature.”
Isn’t this building too sophisticated, in a way that could make things difficult for the user?
“In order not to make things difficult, we allow users to adapt certain features to their own needs. For example, the shutter system is automatic, but it can also be operated manually. We’re trying to make the building intuitive. We don’t want to educate the employees. One of the nice things in the building is the atrium, which meets one of the important principles of green construction – to encourage walking. The stairs in the atrium encourage walking inside the building. If someone has to go up a few floors, they’ll use the stairs rather than the elevator.”
Maybe you’re actually creating the perfect slavery box?
“We say that as long as you’re working, we’ll create a good work environment. The best green construction is not to build at all. But because we need protection from the weather, and we want to be comfortable in the building, we build smart.”