A freshly cut jewel will soon grace the skyline of Richmond, Virginia—placed there by Dominion Energy, a company in operation since 1909. More than just an office tower, come 2019, the Dominion Workplace Project will be an innovation hub and a magnet for talent that will generate tax revenue for the city’s growing downtown business district.
Jim Ferrara is uniquely suited to lead the project as its director. Having started his career with the company nearly 30 years ago, he’s as much a part of its legacy as any physical space. Although he took a brief hiatus with major financial and telecom companies in the 1990s, Ferrara knows the company’s needs and culture like few others do. He’s contributed to power-station projects and commercial installations. He helped build a corporate center, oversaw supply-chain management, and later took on a facilities-management role in which he led day-to-day operations of the full Dominion portfolio, including renovation and new construction projects.
In 2015, Dominion’s leaders tapped Ferrara to manage all aspects of a multiyear workplace modernization strategy. The master plan outlines renovations to several existing Dominion buildings, in addition to the construction of new office towers. The company has several buildings in the Richmond area, including an existing corporate downtown tower, at One James River Plaza. Dominion acquired the property next door—a former tobacco factory—in 2011, originally to meet the increasing demand for more employee parking.
As Ferrara, CEO Tom Farrell, and others discussed the issue, the need for a cohesive, long-term workplace strategy emerged. “Our CEO was looking forward to providing a better workplace to anchor our company and attract and retain the best talent,” Ferrara says. Dominion partnered with outside firms, analyzed company growth forecasts, and started developing solutions.
The first approved step is the company’s new office tower. The tower will sit adjacent to the existing 310-foot-tall One James River Plaza location that currently houses about 1,300 employees. But Ferrara and his colleagues set out to do more than simply erect a new structure. “We saw this as a real opportunity to evolve our culture through a building project,” he explains.
“Richmond is our home, and we believe in it.”
Senior leaders toured offices at notable organizations such as Exxon, Microsoft, Devon Energy, USA Today, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to gather ideas and information. Armed with inspiration and data, they returned to conceive workplace designs to match Dominion’s exact needs.
Dominion generates roughly 26,400 mW of power, transports natural gas across a network spanning 15,000 miles, and operates a massive natural gas storage system. To do so, the Fortune 500 company relies on innovation and collaboration. The new office tower (which will serve as a template for renovations and other new builds in the master plan) will promote those ideals through design and execution.
A modern design replaces traditional cubicles. Construction teams will instead fill each floor with open, collaborative, adaptable, high-performance work spaces with ergonomic sit to stand desks, and meeting rooms will be outfitted with smart technology. Other features include a fitness center and a dining space opening to a green rooftop terrace. There will also be street-level retail space, electric vehicle charging stations, and bicycle storage.
Designers relocated perimeter offices to allow sunlight to pass through expansive windows. The result is a bright, clean, contemporary atmosphere with expansive views of downtown Richmond and the James River. Employees can work comfortably at their own workstations or move freely through shared indoor and outdoor amenities. Instead of simply finding more space for new employees, Dominion’s leaders are taking a strategic approach and locating employee groups near others with which they interact. Ferrara, who provided workstation samples to and solicited feedback from Dominion employees, says the change will position his company for continued success.
“We’re in a transition, with many generations working in one environment,” Ferrara says. “This approach is a good next step as our tenured employees transfer institutional knowledge to younger employees that will take us into the future.”
At 417 feet and 4 inches tall, the building will become the city’s second-tallest structure. Its unique sail design—with an elegant, curved glass façade—will change Richmond’s skyline. The project, which touches a once-neglected park system, also has the potential to spark additional development and convince others to invest in downtown Richmond as the city looks to continue its westward expansion.
Dominion’s new office tower will be LEED Gold-certified for construction and interiors. A raised floor will improve air flow and quality while high-efficiency HVAC, lighting, plumbing, and mechanical systems will reduce energy usage. The project scored additional LEED points through a green roof on its parking structure and a smart building-management system. Sustainably sourced building materials, and a comprehensive recycling program during demolition also added points.
Dominion is completing the office tower without government funding or other economic incentives. “This represents our long-standing commitment to the city and region that has supported our growth,” Ferrara says. “Richmond is our home, and we believe in it.”
The project will replace an outdated and blighted building, and it’s one of many contributing to a downtown revitalization. Marriott has announced plans to open a boutique hotel in 2018, the state is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the Capitol Square, and 7 West is one of many anticipated housing projects.
As the tower nears completion, Dominion is considering its options for the existing One James River Plaza building next door. The company is likely to renovate or replace the outdated structure and may build a sky bridge across 7th Street to unite the two projects. In the coming years, Richmond might have yet another jewel twinkling in its sky.
As a design architect, Pickard Chilton works with visionary clients to deliver high-performance buildings that create measurable value, produce an engaging and productive workplace, and build better communities. Based in New Haven, our work is animated by the belief in the transformative power of research-driven, people-oriented, sustainable, elegant design.