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How do you turn a tired, ’80s-era, Office Space–esque corporate headquarters into an inspiring place to work? That was the challenge put to Denver-based architecture and general contracting firm Tres Birds, whose solution prioritized transparency, natural light, and an eye-catching material called dichroic glass.
Used by 4th-century Romans, NASA scientists, and even the designers of Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, dichroic glass comprises thin layers of glass and micro-layers of metals, metal oxides, or silica, which are vaporized, then condense into a crystalline structure on the surface of the glass. When lit by the sun, the crystal structure functions like a prism, separating the full-spectrum sunlight into colors that vary depending upon the angle of illumination and view. Tres Birds’ founder and principal Michael M. Moore explains: “All sunlight contains the full range of colors within it all the time. Dichroic technology reveals this hidden fact [by allowing] a flat surface coloration to always be changing color based on the position of the sun and the movement of the observer. We love the dynamic quality of the colors produced.”
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For this building*, the Tres Birds team used dichroic glass to create the Prism Plane, a 52-foot-wide, folding glass curtain wall—inserted into the building’s existing brick façade—that projects rainbow-hued bands of light onto the office’s interior and exterior walls and floors, and even the surrounding gardens, which replace a former parking lot and loading area. Each of the plane’s glass panels—some clear, some colored—were placed at a unique angle to maximize the kaleidoscopic effect. And when the main floor’s 38-foot-wide hydraulic door pivots upward, creating an indoor/outdoor co-working space, the light and color play even more.
“We wanted to create a dynamic play of both transmitted [interior] and reflected [outdoor courtyard] colors that change throughout the day and throughout the year,” Moore explains. “We wanted the inhabitants of this space to notice the subtle changes day to day and hour to hour. We like to keep people curious and aware of the dynamic qualities of [the sun].”
Inside the offices—where dimmable LED lighting is available, but used only when necessary—the effect is energizing and uplifting. By removing exterior and interior walls and inserting skylights, glass walls, and a new atrium opening, Tres Birds allowed sunlight to penetrate farther into the building—and created some new mountain views. But who needs those when there’s a live light show happening inside at every desk?
*the business using the building wished to remain anonymous