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FM Global (Allendale Mutual Insurance Company Headquarters Building)
Among major corporate headquarters buildings set in large landscaped grounds, this may be the largest and is architecturally perhaps the most interesting in the state. How astonished Zachariah Allen would likely be to come across this evidence of the success of his scheme for industrial coinsurance as a way to reduce fire insurance premiums at his mill ( NP4) in nearby Allendale! Allendale Mutual was the largest American insurer of industrial properties when it became part of the FM Global conglomerate in the late 1990s.
The principal elevation of the headquarters building, facing south toward Atwood Avenue, is visible on its 240-acre site through a screen of trees across a pond and lawn. Horizontal and extended, from a distance this elevation seems to be composed of huge, boxlike increments lined up lengthwise, ranged in two- and three-story stacks and open to deep shadow. These are punctuated on each of the long elevations (south and north) by four boxes on end (eight in all), which are completely sealed as windowless stair towers clad in dark brown glazed block. On closer view the open-ended “boxes” that accumulate to make the south elevation turn out to be projecting frames composed of a widespread pair of cantilevered beams, roughly 148 feet apart and extended 16 feet beyond the plane of the office window wall. Their ends, connected with narrower stiffening face beams, at a distance contribute to the effect of an elevation made of an accumulation of boxes. Behind the face beams, reinforced concrete louvers cross the frame, angled so as to shield the floor-to-ceiling amber-colored thermal sheet glass windows against the direct heat and glare of the sun, while also permitting the diffuse light of the sky to reach the offices through the slots in the louvers. (The north wall has no need for these built-in awnings, while the narrow east and west ends of the building are virtually closed against the rising and setting sun.)
The folded profile observed outside at the ends of the sun screens continues, but to different structural effect, inside. Here the cantilevered beams on the outside extend inside as “edge beams” folded down from floor and roof slabs. They provide beams integral with their slabs, while also stiffening the slabs along their edges. A structure folded in this manner makes possible the extreme longitudinal span of 148 feet supported only by rows of four columns (two in the interior, plus one each in the outer walls) across the building at either end. The columns, in turn, are themselves beefed up as outsized boxlike entities. They accept the spanning folded planes for floor and roof on either side of their hollow cores. The cores can then receive the vertical runs for the wires, pipes, and channels which service the building's machinery, as well as for service closets where needed for circuit breakers, valves, and control panels. From these hollow trunks, horizontal channels within the hollow-cored construction of combined floor and ceiling slabs bring mechanical services to the offices: wiring raceways for lights, telephones, and computers; ducts for heating and cooling; pipes for plumbing and sprinkler systems.
Hence the building as a whole is a crisscrossed, hierarchical system of hollow linear containers, each theoretically infinitely extendable, for which the varied raceways of the mechanical systems provide the conceptual starting point. Exploded from their status as minichannels for bringing utilities and services and stood on end, they become hollow supports and stair towers. Further exploded, and hung at right angles from their box supports, they become inhabitable boxes of space, which are celebrated along the major (south) front of the building as jutting sunscreens. These tubular boxes, each with its own integrity, come together to make the whole. So the machinery of the building becomes the building as machine; yet, because of its encasement, the machinery is as invisible as the innards of the computer. This ideal of the integration of the machine with the architecture (instead of forcing the machine into the building after the fact as a necessary but often disruptive adjunct) was very much at the center of architectural and systems thought in the 1970s. This headquarters building epitomizes the ideal, its handsomeness born of the integrity and elegance with which the design adheres to its premise. The machine purrs away unobtrusively at the center of its garden paradise. Machine and garden are the polar
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