Photo SOM | © Fotoworks

Kia Motors America Research and Development Headquarters

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Irvine, California

By Ingrid Spencer

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Kia Motors may be South Korea's oldest car company—it was established in 1944 as a manufacturer of bicycle parts—but traditional thinking is not what makes it an industry leader. The company's Research and Development Headquarters in Irvine, California, designed by the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), proves Kia's commitment to design and the U.S. market, where sales have increased by 77 percent since 2008, when the project was completed.

“Both our company's vision and design philosophy are the context for what Kia wanted to project to our team members and to the public,” explains John Yoon, Kia Motors America vice president and general counsel. Simple, efficient, and environmentally sound, the buildings provide generous space for work in a logically organized campuslike setting.

Located on the main expressway into the city of Irvine, the project encompasses a pair of straightforward two-story, tilt-up concrete buildings—one 230,000 square feet and the other 71,687 square feet—connected by a third-level glass bridge that floats over a reception gallery/automobile showroom. The entry plaza extends south along a double-height glazed wall that reveals the Design Center, which features a cantilevered, perforated steel-mesh canopy that shades the lobby within, yet still admits daylight.

Designed to accommodate myriad functions, the complex includes administrative, technical, multipurpose, training, and gallery spaces, as well as indoor and outdoor presentation areas and parking. The Design Center is most prominent. Here, Kia's overall aesthetic philosophy, which emphasizes “the simplicity of a straight line,” is exploited by an elongated series of spaces supporting design, presentation, and modeling programs. Adjacent to these “shops” are rooms for the high-tech presentation and display of car designs in progress.

Adhering to California's Title 24 requirements, the city's development guidelines, and the client's request for a sustainable facility, the architects brought sunlight into the interior with skylights and roof openings that also provide vertical clearance for specialized equipment. They installed LED, T8, and T5 lamps controlled by occupancy sensors, and covered both buildings with a reflective elastomeric coating that keeps the roof cool to minimize heat gain inside. Outside, an extensive bioswale filtration system in the parking area removes silt and pollution from surface-water runoff. Drought-resistant plants enhance the landscape. “We tried to relate to the work culture and climate in Irvine by bringing abundant daylight into the interior spaces, opening up the lobby to naturally ventilate the display and gathering space, and providing interior courts and adjacent gardens for a connection to the outdoors and surrounding landscape,” says Brian Lee, design partner at SOM.

The new campus is a commanding presence for Kia. Certainly there are other factors involved in the company's significantly improved U.S. sales figures, but credit must be given to the company for embracing a vision where design is paramount and workers feel linked to their environment. “Cars are changing from just being a mode of transportation to a new space that connects people to their families, work, and society,” says Yoon. “Our facility in the U.S. exemplifies this new space philosophy.”

Ingrid Spencer is a contributing editor for RECORD.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
224 S. Michigan Ave. #1000
Chicago, IL 60604
Phone: 312.554.9090
Fax: 312.360.4545

Completion Date: 2008

Total construction cost: $51.9 million

Gross square footage: 297,130 sq. ft.

May 2012
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