Integrated design means that every system, every element, and every step of the journey is part of a carefully considered and cohesive whole.

This holistic approach to design is on full display throughout the new Centene campus in Charlotte, NC. From the moment team members arrive to the moment they depart for the day, every detail contributes to the workplace experience. Moving from point A to point B is enjoyable, with circulation options including open and inviting escalators, cantilevered stairs in the high-design parking garages, and glass-box elevator cores adjacent to water features.  Active, attractive circulation is woven into the campus aesthetic and is a central part of the company’s wellness-focused culture.

Promoting Active Movement

Centene’s commitment to the health of its employees was a driving force behind its East Coast Headquarters, where active circulation is a key strategy. To encourage employees to move throughout the workday, vertical circulation is open, transparent, and beautiful. The design strategies that make the circulation elements enticing also make the workplace safer as more employees return to in-person offices. Big moves such as prioritizing escalators over elevators and running stairwells through expansive, well-ventilated spaces create more breathing room for comfortable movement throughout the campus. The design’s focus on natural light, air, and views permeate deep into the building through these circulation areas, reducing stress and creating constant connections to nature. Where fully enclosed elevators and fire stairs are required for egress, they are strategically located  to preserve the “treehouse” views around the perimeter of each building.

Centene is pursuing WELL certification for the entire campus, and the vertical circulation strategies play into the program’s requirements for air, light, fitness, and comfort. Transparency is paramount, and primary circulation elements utilize the buildings open design strategies to provide effective natural ventilation. Encouraging employees to move through carefully designed circulation spaces with framed views to nature promotes a sense of calmness, and the investment in beautiful facilities reiterates the value Centene places on employees.

Designing a World-Class Arrival Experience

Each amenity at Centene folds into the company’s culture, and no element has been overlooked. The parking garages, treated in many projects as a utilitarian necessity, are a carefully considered part of the campus experience and fully integrated with the architecture and landscape. In initial design discussions, vertical circulation in the 2,300-space parking garages included traditional stairs and elevators. However, as the design evolved alongside the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, the team also added a less conventional choice: the use of escalators for parking garage circulation.

In addition to allowing natural ventilation and a comfortable degree of separation between users, the escalators integrate UV handrail sanitation and multidirectional flow. During the morning rush hour, escalators move employees downward towards the office building, and reverse during the evening rush hour to move employees upwards toward their cars for maximum efficiency with minimal pedestrian “scrubbing” (riders passing each other while moving in opposite directions).  The Centene parking garage escalators are semi-protected with glass on one side, with the greatest exterior exposure on the upper levels. As such, these escalators utilize special NEMA-rated enclosures for control of moisture and condensation. Solar panels located on the roofs over the garage stair and escalator cores help to sustainably offset the operational cost of the escalator drive units with renewable energy.

The Centene parking garages also feature dramatic glass-encased cantilevered stairs which hang from the building façade above the courtyard space below. This design move was rooted in both aesthetics and wellness; the stairs add another opportunity to promote active movement during the workday as they run through a glass box enclosure that opens up views to the office building and the lush green landscape between buildings. The garage elevators, likewise, are glass-enclosed with glass-backed cabs providing sight lines to the campus, areaways, and landscape. They also float above water as passengers ascend and descend next to a constructed water feature at each of the garages.

Moving Through the Workday

Once inside the office building, employees and visitors can circulate through the spacious volumes via open escalators or floating stairs. The interior escalators pass through the light-filled multistory atrium, crisscrossing for maximum efficiency of free-flowing circulation up and down. The open escalators provide air movement and allow for comfortable personal space; they also maintain sight lines from the interior to exterior views through the glass curtainwall of the preserved tree canopy beyond.  Within the “treehouse” areas, the cantilevered stairs promote a healthy work environment by encouraging employees to experience the multi-story open environments while transitioning levels on foot. Walls and handrails are transparent and integrated to preserve visual connectivity, views, and a sense of openness.

Connections between the parking garage and the office buildings are framed by an eye-catching canopy with  patterning that mimics light  filtering through a tree canopy. These patterns make their way into the office building skylights as well, identifying vertical circulation through a common visual theme.  At the garages, this same visual patterning transitions to the vertical plane through the use of custom cut metal panels on the main facades of the garages located at each stair location. Similarly, a board-formed concrete aesthetic which defines major interior lobbies of the office building is carried into the garages. This textural and visually interesting finish strengthens campus connections as it reappears in select high-volume spaces that deal with vertical circulation.

On a campus designed for flexibility and seamless transitions between work environments, the circulation spaces – horizontal and vertical – deserve the same level of care and attention as the conference rooms, collaboration areas, and touchdown stations. Through careful design at every step along the way, employees have access to natural light, ventilation, and views to the preserved natural environment; making the journey is as enjoyable as the destination.

About Kevin

Senior Associate Kevin Schaffner brings significant expertise in designs for the aviation sector.  A graduate of the University of North Carolina – Charlotte with a Master of Architecture, Kevin has collaborated across several LS3P offices to support design efforts for aviation and transportation projects. Notable recent work includes designs for the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Concourse E Phase 9 expansion, the Claymont Regional Transportation Center in Delaware, and a Terminal Area Study for the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport.

Kevin previously served as a general consultant to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) and developed initial design concepts in coordination with their Master Plan Update. As part of this multi-modal project, Kevin helped to produce drawing packages through the design development phase, coordinated design team and consultant progress through construction documents, and provided design oversight throughout the construction process. This included interaction with various regulatory agencies, including the FAA, FDOT, and the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) and the coordination of strict ITF rail requirements for the future tenant.