Outside-In and Inside-Out: A Seamless Campus Experience

Date Posted: 10.29.2017

By Annie Rummelhoff, Dakota Keene

All are welcomed to the Perot Family Offices by a majestic live oak tree, the sentinel of the site. Its presence is powerful and its strength and beauty make it an iconic feature of this place. For members of our project design team, it also sparks vivid storytelling about the campus—perspectives into a family’s deep roots, an authentic connection to place, and the seamless integration of design concept across landscape, architecture and interiors.

The verdant six-acre site lies within a Dallas greenbelt, nestled alongside the Katy Trail to its east and bounded on three sides by the meandering Turtle Creek and its limestone outcroppings. Amidst these natural edges stood a family of three live oaks. These trees and remarkable natural setting became the genesis of the campus design concept—an integration between landscape and architecture to allow the site and open space to flow through the center of the campus as a braided channel of the stream.

The campus brings together nearly a dozen Perot and Hillwood business divisions from across Dallas and the surrounding area under one roof for the first time to increase efficiency and promote a shared culture. Offices for Perot family members are located alongside their teams. The design connects individuals with each other and surrounding nature every day. The immersive setting is both regenerative and inspirational, helping foster collaboration, health and productivity for individuals and across diverse business units.

Through the visioning process with the Perot family and Hillwood leaders, shared project goals emerged and came to be known as the “Big Five.” The entire project team rallied behind these ideas throughout the design and construction process, often referring back to these criteria as a basis for decision making.

Connect to Nature and Community
Goals for the headquarters design included open spaces and views that would connect users with the lush tree canopy and riparian stream corridor to inspire and promote big picture thinking. The ideal design was also envisioned to provide opportunities for circulating and collaborating between business units, sharing a meal, promoting health and reinforcing ties with the surrounding community. These goals prompted a deeply integrated design, emphasizing seamless connections between inside and out, common space that allows impromptu gathering, and a park on the Katy Trail (a gift to the City of Dallas that connects the campus to this important civic asset).

Deep Roots, Global Reach
The Perot family and their businesses have deep roots in the Dallas community, as well as strong national and global influence. The new building design is a direct expression of this ideal, with two limestone forms that grow vertically from the land, wrapping over the office bars and projecting horizontally to the north and south to distant views beyond the site. Additional design expressions include the use of local materials and the creation of innovative work spaces inspired by Ross Perot’s interest in advances in brain function research.

Team First
A dedication to the greater team is felt and promoted by every employee. Each and every person is treated as a valued member of the team. The design process similarly incorporated broad staff involvement to create spaces that support their health, productivity and success. In contrast to open office and small workspace trends, the Perot family headquarters prioritizes individual control, and offers staff room to spread out and roam.

Honor the Past, Embrace the Future
Thoughtful attention to legacy and future is inspired by the family patriarch, Ross Perot, whom this building honors. His presence is lively, his stories are adored, and his legacy is poetically stitched into every aspect of this campus from which his children and grandchildren now lead and innovate. At the building’s ground level, an exhibition and interpretive gallery displays artifacts and memorabilia from Ross Perot’s technology industry and political careers, as well as an overview of the Hillwood and Perot companies and their connections to the local and global community.

The term “Intersection,” which transformed into a named program space within the project, was coined by Ross Perot Jr. in early design meetings. The building was envisioned to enhance collaboration between divisions through visual connection and spaces that facilitate communication. The Intersection reinforces connection between site, building and interiors, and is a physical manifestation of their visionary leader’s commitment to uniting people and ideas.

Connection of Spaces
Our integrated design process translated the Big Five concepts into a collection of interior and exterior spaces that support one another and advance overarching project goals. The strongest example of this is the Intersection—a glassy volume at the center of the project that connects the building’s two limestone-clad wings and allows the landscape to conceptually flow from one end to the other, through the building.

The Intersection is a fulcrum to the function of the office space and daily operations—a place where staff come together on all three floors to collaborate, gather informally, and meet in conference rooms. At the ground level, a café features wall-to-wall windows on the north and south, animating the dining experience with views and doors out to an allée of trees that runs through the site. The central, open stair extends this experience upwards, inviting staff to traverse the tree canopy as they climb from the communal ground floor to individual work spaces on the upper floors.

At the upper levels, extensive transparency at the perimeter creates an immersive experience of the tree canopy. Glazed conference rooms and offices provide daylight, territorial views and visual connection across workspaces, supporting big picture and “blue sky” thinking.

In addition to visual connections, the campus is designed with a range of outdoor environments to draw individual and group activities outside. Taking hot Texas summers into consideration, the design team minimized the contrast between interior and exterior, avoiding the extremes between a cool, darker indoor space and a brighter, harsh outdoor one. Outside the ground-floor café, mature trees and the building’s portico shade a terrace for dining or informal meetings, while a water feature that emulates the ebb and flow of Turtle Creek provides a cooling effect. A series of gardens and lawns welcome people to edges of the site to enjoy the natural beauty of the creek. At the building’s second floor, a bridge provides direct access from offices to the Katy Trail for a quick run, walking meeting or a team outing.

All materials selected for the project went through a thorough vetting process with a heavy focus on domestic and locally sourced options. Natural materials, including stone, glass and wood, compose the main elements of the project. Each was required to stand the test of time in terms of aesthetics and durability, while connecting to the concept to tell a story. Jet Mist granite—used prominently in the United States Air Force Memorial, which Ross Perot Jr was instrumental in forming—runs as a primary channel through the site, building and interior spaces. The stone’s flowing white veins, set against a neutral backdrop of natural green and brown, connects strongly to the design concept, is soft enough to balance the steel and glass of the main interior gathering space and delivers durability to handle vehicular traffic at the arrival plaza.

In addition to the central intersection stone, various limestones were used throughout the campus. Indiana limestone is used vertically on walls throughout the interior and exterior, including columns, the entry portal and within key ground-level spaces. This stone recalls the strength and honor of our nation’s capital monuments. Used throughout the site and horizontal surfaces are Lueders, a local stone of the Texas region, and Valders, a dolomitic solid limestone from the Midwest with unique qualities of durability.

Used reverently throughout the project, oak is an important wood species used to express strength and history. The central live oak tree that greets visitors as they cross over Turtle Creek into the arrival court is a prominent feature of the site, and was relocated there from elsewhere on the property. In addition to transplanting this mature tree, two other trees in the grouping were salvaged to create an authentic site-focused arrival to the interior spaces: the lobby’s iconic reception desk.

The connection between indoor and outdoor spaces is emphasized in the Intersection by a custom wood ceiling designed to mimic the dappled light of the allée elms’ tree canopy immediately outside. Beneath, a band of Jet Mist granite flooring extends from the dining area to the exterior terraces.

FROM Goals to REALity
With high standards for aesthetics, functionality and performance, this project had many goals to meet. A recent survey, evaluating user experience after occupancy, shows that many of these goals were achieved. Employees are using the stair, fitness facilities and easily accessible trail system. Moreover, the planning of the Intersection, workspace adjacency and the main central stair are fostering collaboration and communication.

In an interview with Dallas Morning News, Nancy Perot explains that the new campus is changing the way they interact. “A wonderful aspect is you get to see people in the hallways we used to just communicate with by email or phone,” she said. “That is a really important part—the easy collaboration between the divisions.”

Ultimately, the integration of indoor and outdoor experiences powerfully reinforces the core concept of connections—between people and place, between individuals, and across generations.