Upon learning aboutJuniper Networks'new corporate headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA, most people will proclaim that it is not your everyday architectural endeavor. Juniper Networks, well-known for developing servers focusing on IP protocol and bringing state-of-the-art network technology products to the market, is a rapidly growing company. With a staff of nearly 10,000, there was a need for more company buildings.

West Coast-based RMW Architects -- with offices in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento and Orangevale, CA -- has been partnering with Juniper from early on. "We have an extremely strong, very progressive ongoing relationship with Juniper," stated RMW President Russ Nichols. "They believe in growth. And also, due to the makeup of their industry which includes a very high degree of confidentiality prior to product launches, they simply cannot be in the same building with other tenants; where they are, must be theirs."

In 2000, the design of a new Juniper corporate location -- to take place on 80 acres from the original location -- began. The plan was to create space that took into consideration the company's impressive growth. There were a number of bumps in the road, which included the dot-com bust and the recession, but Juniper stayed strong and the project never died, according to Nichols.

"Two years ago, we really went into high gear on the current project, phase one of the new campus which ultimately will include 10 office buildings, three parking structures, a large community auditorium and more," said the architect. "There is even a parcel dedicated to the firm's future hotel and conference center."

The first phase of the Juniper construction program included four eight-story office and R&D buildings. "This is really the first time buildings this high have been constructed in the region," explained Nichols. "The eight-story structure, for example, the tallest in Silicon Valley, will be 318,000 square feet, which is extremely big for this area."

Choosing a porcelain facade system

This was not a typical undertaking which seemed apropos for RMW. "We wanted to look at building skins that were different than the norm," said Nichols. "There were a lot of glass windows in our designs. We wanted a cladding that complemented the glass. At first, we looked at stone because we wanted a large-format material. But stone was expensive and heavy, so we then looked at porcelain tile, which is lighter in weight and thinner in size."

RMW was in touch with SpecCeramics of Fullerton, CA, a firm with decades of experience in providing exterior cladding material solutions for commercial projects. "We represent Caesar Ceramiche, a major Italian factory whose products have been successfully specified by RMW in the past," said Dave Leal, President of SpecCeramics. "Caesar came up with a new, world-leading technology which allows for the production of perfectly rectified and calibrated porcelain tiles which can be up to 36 x 36 or 24 x 48 inches in size. We thought these products would be the right choice to be specified for the buildings on the new Juniper campus. And apparently, so did RMW and Ed Knowles of Walters & Wolf [a building skin/envelope subcontractor headquartered in Fremont, CA.]

Walters & Wolf has worked in tandem with RMW for many years, providing glass and glazing systems -- as well as the precast concrete and GFRC panel systems -- on many of the firm's buildings. RMW wanted a unique panel system that would include the Caesar porcelain material for the building's skin.

"The panel system that we supplied was a lightweight concrete one that was ultimately designed and fabricated by our firm," said Knowles. "The porcelain tiles were actually attached to the lightweight concrete panels, and the tile joints were caulked right in our factory for delivery and installation on the building."

When asked why the designs by RMW were so unique, Knowles responded, "Porcelain tile projects have traditionally been specified for smaller projects and applications. RMW did a tremendous amount of research on tile products, sizes and material properties for use in a much larger application as a building facade material. This project is the first project of its kind in the Bay Area."

A unique installation

The project was not without challenges. The attachment of the porcelain tile to the concrete backing was very unique. Walters & Wolf spent several months researching and testing different fastening systems of the tile to the concrete backing. This research included a combination of studying both material properties and manufacturing techniques. 

"In many cases, when tile is used on the facade of a building, the tiles are handset in the field on a stucco wall," explained Knowles. "This system, although used frequently over the years, is time-consuming and costly due to the field labor and schedule. By attaching the tiles to our lightweight concrete panels in our factory away from the jobsite, we were able to reduce the construction time in the field dramatically. We were also able to eliminate the need for scaffolding on site, as the panels were installed directly from the trucks to the building using a mobile crane. This unique panelization system saved the general contractor time in the field and cut down the costs typically incurred when hand-setting porcelain tiles on the jobsite."

This was a very successful, professionally managed project. "For the 25 years SpecCeramics has been in business, a sign has been posted in our offices declaring, 'Excellence is not an act, but a habit,' " said Lea. "This phrase, which we aspire to live by, was never truer than with the Juniper project. Every aspect of this job was performed with the highest degree of excellence. Tile material specified was delivered on time and in perfect condition. Walters & Wolf took those original cutting-edge designs created by RMW and brought them to life.

"Most of all, from the very beginning, everyone involved was excited about this job," continued Leal. "We all fell in love with the project at its start, and that feeling continued until it was completed. I have been providing tile for commercial projects virtually all of my professional life. During this time, I've had the good fortune to be part of numerous high-end, incredibly progressive and expertly implemented tile jobs. Clearly, our being able to contribute to Juniper Networks' project ranks up there near the top of the list."

To date, two of the four Juniper buildings in phase one of the overall project have been completed. Tile material for the remaining two is being stored in SpecCeramics' bonded and insured warehouses, ready to immediately be moved to the jobsite. "As this job progresses, we want to ensure that everything continues status quo -- with total excellence," said Leal.