Around the edges: Views light up a Staunton blade factory

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A Staunton company wanted architectural firm Shank & Gray to provide a connection to the outdoors from nearly every workstation. Photo: Philip Beaurline A Staunton company wanted architectural firm Shank & Gray to provide a connection to the outdoors from nearly every workstation. Photo: Philip Beaurline

Innovative companies may start in garages—or, in the case of one local concern, an old dairy building—but the successful ones will eventually need a proper home. Cadence is a Staunton company that manufacturers blades, needles, and other sharp components for medical instruments. Since its founding in 1985, it has graduated several times to larger workspaces. Charlottesville-based architects Shank & Gray have helped the company with several of these transitions, and in 2005, they were asked to design a new building from the ground up.

“They wanted to project a new image,” said architect Bob Gray. “They wanted the new building to have a more sophisticated, forward architectural quality.”

It would be a 28,000-square-foot office and shop in an industrial park outside Staunton. “The nature of industrial facilities is a box with some offices,” said Gray. “There are two basic attitudes—put the offices inside the box, or attach them to the outside. In this building, they’re expressed outside in this faceted or crenellated piece.” Along the front of the building marches a diagonal sawtooth form, completely wrapped in glass.

This angular volume not only serves the aesthetic purpose of symbolizing the company’s mission, it creates a pleasing environment for its employees. “Typical manufacturing factories are windowless and the employees are isolated from the outdoors,” said Carl Palermo, Cadence’s Executive Vice President. “Employees have no connection to the weather or the changes taking place throughout the course of their shift.” Cadence wanted Shank & Gray to provide a connection to the outdoors from nearly every workstation. North-facing windows 20 feet high and 25 feet wide permit a flood of daylight.

The company culture, said Gray, is “extraordinarily democratic.” It’s a necessity in a business that is constantly designing new machines to make highly specialized products. Gray described the place as having “huge rooms with robotic milling machines, carving out from very high-grade steel these beautiful little blades of all sorts.” Employees are integral to the company’s continual development of new processes.

The building needed to reinforce the notion that everyone’s expertise is valuable, so it is designed without the architectural markers of hierarchy that are common in most workplaces. “There isn’t a private office anywhere—not for the president, not for anyone,” said Gray. Instead, an open office plan is bordered by conference rooms and a lunch room in which office and shop workers mingle.

Shank & Gray took care not to flatten the rolling landscape in which the facility sits. “We wanted to fit it into the valley floor without it being a scar,” said Gray.

“Not only are our facilities spectacular from the outside and from aerial views,” said Palermo. “They deliver the beauty of the outdoors to our employees.”

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