As interest in green design keeps building, a pioneer of sustainability, McDonough + Partners, continues to capitalize on the trend. Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, the firm blazed a trail in sustainability with projects such as its grass-roofed headquarters for Gap Inc., in San Bruno, California. After this influential building was completed in 1997, demand for work slowed in the Bay Area. But things are looking up again—so much so that McDonough opened an office in San Francisco last year. It has won three major commissions in the region, including two for technology-sector clients, and now is setting its sights across the Pacific to China.

Image courtesy McDonough + Partners
The first phase of VMware's new headquarters is set to open this June.

“We’ve been a Bay Area firm in Charlottesville for a long time,” observes Kevin Burke, director of practice. “We’ve just taken the logical step to create a permanent presence here.”

The first new project is for VMware headquarters, a leader in “virtual machine” technology. McDonough has designed a sort of academic village set among 37 acres of mature redwoods in Palo Alto, the first phase of which, about a quarter of the project, opens in June. Five, two-story buildings totaling 460,000 square feet of office space will be connected via open bridges that allow workers to walk under the tree canopy when going from building to building. The complex will feature green roofs as well as an interior courtyard with recreational uses such as a dining area and a bocce court; all employees will have views outside.

“The site is tucked into the foothills and includes some phenomenal stands of redwoods,” Burke says. “The buildings are recessive. The emphasis is on orchestrating movement through the landscape.”

McDonough is also reportedly working with Google on a massive research and office complex at the NASA Ames research center, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. “I can only say that we are doing work with Google,” Burke says, adding that the firm signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Internet giant. The project, the Chronicle wrote, could include as much as 1 million square feet of office space and would be a major commitment to sustainability on the part of the company, which is a heavy energy consumer. “They are under tremendous scrutiny,” Burke says.

In addition to these projects, last month McDonough began working with local architect Anshen + Allen on a $1.3 billion University of California San Francisco Mission Bay Medical Center, which will include women’s, children’s, and oncology units. It is expected to open in 2014.