Stone World

National retailer builds landmark office building in Italian stone

September 1, 2007
Recently, Pier 1 Imports built a new headquarters on a prominent site along the banks of the Trinity River in Fort Worth, TX, to house the 700 associates that work in its corporate office. The exterior facade features Pietra Di Stazzema schist, which was supplied by Henraux S.p.A. of Querceta, Italy.


Pier 1 Imports first opened its doors in San Mateo, CA, in 1962. Initially, the company, which specializes in home furniture and accessories, was established as one store, but today it has expanded to include more than 1,100 locations throughout North America. The company is headquartered in Fort Worth, TX, and recently a new building was constructed on a premium site to house the 700 associates that work in the corporate office. And in keeping with the high-quality traditional design that was desired, a variety of Italian stone -- supplied by Henraux S.p.A. of Querceta, Italy -- was employed for exterior and interior applications throughout the 20-story, 450,000-square-foot structure.
“The site is extraordinary,” said Turan Duda, AIA, partner of Duda / Paine Architects, LLP in Durham, NC. “It is a 15-acre open site on the edge of downtown Fort Worth, and it overlooks the Trinity River. It also marks the end of a major thoroughfare from the airport. Such a prominent, stand-alone location called for a building that would function as a landmark on the city’s skyline, and as an orienting marker.”
The architect went on to explain that prior to the new headquarters, Pier 1 Imports had its offices scattered in several buildings downtown. “They decided that they wanted their own unique site,” he said. The new headquarters incorporates all of the retailer’s purchasing, accounting, photography, recordkeeping and other services into one single facility.
“Because the building is standing on its own out there, to a certain degree, it becomes a symbol and landmark,” said Duda. “It’s a subtle way of orienting people. I said that we can design a building that has a shape and form on site -- that achieves a sense of presence and power by being a bold wide-shoulder building.”
According to the architect, one of the building’s broad facades can be seen from the city, while a narrow side faces the river. Towards these ends, the tower was designed to be an iconic form with a memorable silhouette -- or as Marvin Girouard, the former chairman of Pier 1 Imports, has described it, a “timeless building of understated elegance that will maintain its longevity for years to come,” according to Duda.

The intent of the design was to express the natural stone as a series of column covers on the exterior facade, according to Turan Duda, AIA, partner of Duda / Paine Architects, LLP in Durham, NC. “The effect of this articulation is to accentuate the verticality of the facade from the ground plane to the sky,” he said.

Exterior stonework

From the initial start of the design, stone was always a primary contender for a building material. “When we started to look at the skin of the building and exterior, natural stone came to mind,” said Duda. “Stone really has a quality of being timeless. I look at the buildings from 1,000 years ago, and I still marvel.”
According to the architect, the intent of the design was to express the natural stone as a series of column covers on the exterior facade. The Pietra di Stazzema-clad columns give the building its vertical power and feeling of permanence, and aluminum framing and clear glass windows lend it dynamism, he explained.
“We wanted a stone that has lots of character -- something that has movement and veining, but also looks classy,” said Duda. “We wanted a stone that has a quality that will really last a long time.”
Keeping this criteria in mind, the decision was made to use Pietra Di Stazzema, which is a schist quarried in Italy. “It is absolutely beautiful,” said Duda. “It has a rich gray color with white veins running through it that provide a movement and texture not commonly found in granite.”
Paolo Carli of Henraux Stone Fabricators in Carrara, Italy, further enhanced the stone’s qualities by waterjet-honing the surface to bring out more of the color.
“The combination of a highly articulated crisp curtain wall system fabricated by Baker Metals, and the unusual stone discovered by Henraux and used for the first time on a high-rise tower, made this a special building skin for me,” said Duda. In addition to the facade of the building, Pietra Di Stazzema schist was also used as paving in connector areas.

Mink Grey limestone floor tiles -- measuring 2 x 2 feet in size -- create a grand feel in the lobby. They are complemented by a border of Noir St. Laurent marble with a polished finish.

An interior stone palette

When it came to the interior design, it was essential to the company chairman to maintain the timeless quality that had been established on the exterior. One of the chairman’s remarks resonated in particular with the architect. “Girouard said that everyone might expect [the headquarters] to look like the Pier 1 stores,” said Duda. “He was not interested in that. Rather, he wanted the building to have a Zen-like quality.”
The client’s desire prompted Duda/Paine to explore the company’s identity in a more fundamental way and to conclude that the headquarters would express Pier 1’s essence. “The company is inherently based on a sense of materiality,” said the architect. “We reduced that materiality, expressed by the retailer in objects crafted from natural materials, to something more elemental -- the beauty of the materials themselves. The wood, stone and metal used in the interiors, as well as the exterior of the structure, were selected for their unadorned, natural beauty.” As a result, the lobby, which is grand in scale to accommodate public fundraisers and company gatherings, was designed to require no artwork or other decoration, but to stand on the merits of the materials chosen.
The feature core walls in the lobby are clad in a heavily striated, horizontally oriented Italian travertine. “Henraux cut and blended the stone in a book-matched configuration in both directions,” said Duda. “The effect is that the entire wall, with its warm gold and gray banding, appears to have been sliced from the side of an enormous mountain. It is quite an artistic achievement, and it required Henraux to carefully end-match the slabs of stone. Travertine was applied in a honed finish to enhance the depth of coloration.”
The large lobby walls are accented on either end with polished Rosso Collemandina marble. The rich reddish color of this marble, combined with an amber gold wood paneling on top, creates an “overall effect of a very warm, welcoming experience upon entering the lobby,” said the architect.
Complementing the Dark Walnut travertine walls is Mink Grey limestone flooring. “We wanted something that would be a warm palette, but that was fairly monochromatic to not compete with the walls,” said Duda, adding that the tiles measured 2 x 2 feet. “We find that when sizes get too small, it feels more domestic.”
The field of light gray limestone is bordered by French Noir St. Laurent marble. The black marble border serves to transition between the walls and floor materials.

Large-format floor tiles were chosen for the design, because the architect finds that “when sizes get too small, it feels more domestic.”

A quality-control process

According to Duda, it took about six months to design and two years to build the new Pier 1 Imports headquarters. In addition to the lavish stonework, the building includes employee amenities such as a fitness center, training and conference facilities and cafeteria dining that opens to a garden terrace and walking paths beyond.
“A project of this kind really requires a lot of coordination,” said the architect. “It requires a lot of quality control.”
Because the need for quality control was very high, the design review process involved several trips to Henraux’s factory in Italy. These visits included the initial inspection of blocks and slabs to review of the stone in a “dry lay-down” condition to make sure there was proper blending of coloration and veining.
“No two pieces of stone are going to match perfectly, but this extra level of care in Italy assured a beautiful job when the material was installed on the project,” said Duda.