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VMS Ridgelights provide cost-effective natural light and fresh air to Oakland, CA, office building lobby renovation

The Leamington Atrium showcases VELUX Ridgelight


The Leamington Hotel, designed by architect W.H. Meeks and completed in 1926, heralded a new era for downtown Oakland, California. As a modern, luxury hotel with a Spanish flair, it included a staffed children’s play area, an information desk for guests and even a pipe organ. It’s said that Amelia Earhart kept an office there before her final journey. The building transitioned from a hotel to became a popular music venue in the 1960s, but ultimately fell on hard times in the 1970s, shuttering its doors in bankruptcy.

It was redeveloped as an office building in the early 1980s, renovations that added three atrium skylights to provide light to a bank located on the first floor. As demand for office space from the tech industry in the Bay Area grows, the building’s owner, Harvest Properties, decided to update the ground floor from offices into a communal space where people can grab a coffee, a bite to eat or just hang out

The old skylights shown with the stain-glass diffuser removed. They had started to leak and become discolored.

Challenge: Keeping the skylights without breaking the budget

Harvest Properties aimed to design a space that would attract both businesses and customers to The Leamington’s new ground floor dining and retail area, and they knew natural light would create the ambiance they desired.

“We saw great potential for the lobby area,” said Shane Gilroy, associate director with Harvest Properties. “We removed the cubicles there and opened up the space.”

But the old skylights, which had a stained-glass diffuser installed in the ceiling underneath, suffered from heat gain and leaks, and they knew replacing it could be both expensive and time-consuming.

The installation features venting skylights on the ends of each ridgelight to cool the lobby with fresh air during the summer.

Solution: VELUX Modular Skylight system – Ridgelight

Crown Sheet Metal & Skylights, a skylight fabrication company based in Burlingame, supplemented its original bid with three skylight options: a custom glass skylight, a fiberglass skylight system and the VELUX Modular Skylight system.

“It was a simple choice for them to save money and go with VMS,” said Don Dennehy Jr., vice president of Crown Sheet Metal. “The VMS system comes with all the performance—the operables and the shades—and a price that is 20 to 30 percent cheaper than custom skylights.”

“The cost to do a custom skylight would have been much more expensive,” said Billy Keller, senior project manager with Pankow, the design build company on the project. “This system was panelized and everything was numbered. It’s like IKEA for skylights.”

And while the fiberglass skylight system offered similar plug-and-play installation, it lacked a sky view the owner desired.

The installation features venting skylights on the ends of each ridgelight to cool the lobby with fresh air during the summer.

Quick installation: 72 modules in just four days

Crown Sheet Metal installed the three VMS ridgelights in four days, significantly less time than a custom installation would have taken. The original skylights covered three approximately 15x30-foot openings. Because the original skylight openings were different sizes, they ordered custom sized VMS modules for the job. Two of the new ridgelights are made up of 48, 31.5 x 86.6-inch modules, while the third ridgelight consists of 24, 31.5 x 94.5-inch modules. All three have two venting modules on both ends to provide cooling airflow to the lobby below. The new skylights feature energy efficient loE3, Argon gas filled, tempered over laminated OSHA rated high efficiency glazing with ERC ridgelight flashing.

After removing the old, glass skylights and framing, Crown Sheet Metal did some infill on the existing curb (the old skylight frame had been welded to the curb) and added an I-beam rail. They installed the VMS ridgelight framing system and then they were ready to snap the VMS units into place.

The Leamington is a 10-story building with a second-floor that protrudes off the back and wraps around both sides of the building to the front street. Crown Sheet Metal brought the palletized VMS units to the roof with a crane in the side alley and distributed the load throughout the roof.

Due to a tight working space on the roof, installers used a spider crane to move the VMS ridgelight modules into place.

An open, airy lobby

The lobby has been transformed into a light-filled gathering space, where people can grab lunch, coffee and take a break from the workday. With the stained-glass light diffuser removed, plus the open floor plan below, the space feels much more open.

And having ventilating units on the ends of each ridgelight gives building operators a way to cool the space.

“Yesterday it was 85 or 90 degrees outside and the security guard in the lobby had the skylights open,” Gilroy said. “It brings in fresh air that cools the space off. They’ll crack them open when it’s really hot.”

The skylights are equipped with a rain and wind sensor, so they will close in the event of rain or high winds. And the building’s lighting system automatically dims the lights when there’s more sunlight streaming in or brightens them on overcast days or at night.

The lobby has become a focal point for the building’s ground floor retail area.
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