Behind the Curtain: NRG Energy

Designing for Blended Teams

NRG Energy is headquartered in the Houston Pavilions mixed-use complex in downtown Houston. Kirksey designed the 11 floors of this 262,000-sf project to ease the organizational transition of two merging companies, increase collaboration among co-workers, and successfully leverage the unique retail location for their PR efforts.

And here’s how it all came together.

Merging companies in a unique location

In 2009, NRG, a New-Jersey based power generation company, acquired Reliant Energy, a retail electric provider from Texas. This acquisition meant that 165 NRG employees needed to join 1,200 Reliant Energy employees in one location — the Houston Pavilions.

This site was among Houston’s mixed-use, downtown complexes — and it was experiencing retail leasing issues from the current recession. It needed a tenant to occupy portions of its first, second, and third levels, which typically are targeted for retail clients.

NRG Conference Area Seating

So NRG and the design team tasked with this important, transitional design effort were able to capitalize on this opportunity. By activating their “storefront” with graphic design elements that layer imagery with vibrant colors and patterns, the team effectively introduced the new tenants to the space while illustrating the company’s theme “energy in service to society.”

NRG Break Area

Beyond this welcoming visual display are the workspace, conferencing, and break areas themselves, which all help to energize the retail circulation areas. And in addition to graphics and color, passers-by can see a circular sky bridge over the bisecting street; it’s illuminated by a color changing LED source to animate the downtown streetscape.

NRG Open Work Area


The new facility contains no private offices and uses a single standard for all workspaces. Employees sit at identical benching-type workstations, which was the standard at NRG’s corporate headquarters in New Jersey. This creates a collaborative, flexible work environment that encourages the exchange of ideas and information between employees.

Additionally, we improved the benching workstations by adding more storage and layout space at each station in an L-shaped arrangement. (Workplace analysis of their previous benching standard pointed out numerous deficiencies in durability and the options available for flexibility and storage.)

Allsteel benching systems in NRG’s Office

The new Allsteel benching standard was ideal for their needs and provided all the options they were looking for.

Multiple settings for collaborative or isolated work

Because all staff are situated in benching workstations, the designs strongly emphasizes the provision of multiple settings for collaboration and isolated work. Huddle rooms provide numerous groupings around every floor, and meeting rooms of various sizes are located at the center of the floor adjacent to the elevator lobby.

NRG Break Area
NRG Coffee Bar & Social Area

Accompanying these meeting rooms are the coffee bar and social space, which serve as the center of activity for employee interaction. Throughout the space, employees have ample access to conference and multi-use spaces for collaborative or private use, universal technology and connectivity, and a light filled cafà © with access to the outdoors.

Because of such an open environment, each floor is divided into four zones, reducing the likelihood of a large, noisy pool of open-plan workstations. In addition, sound masking is utilized throughout to ensure that conversational privacy is maximized.


Being one of the largest retail providers of renewable energy, NRG’s priority was to earn a LEED certification for their space and stand as an example for their clients and employees.

Locating downtown was the first important decision, knowing that many services and transportation options were only steps away. NRG’s commuters have access to more than 650 transit rides per day and many employees take advantage of this.   Since “transportation energy intensity” is often greater than building energy use itself in Houston, this has an impressive overall environmental impact.

Another impactful decision made by the owners was the decision to use benching type workstations with 42” partitions or lower.   More than 90% of employees in the space have access to daylight, and 95% have access to views.

Daylight in the NRG Workspace


  • Water use is cut by 28% with low flow lavatory fixtures and dual flush toilets.
  • Interior lighting power density is at 0.75 watts per square foot.
  • More than 96% of their appliances and computer equipment are energy-star rated.
  • 90% of the construction waste was diverted from the landfill.
  • More than 30% of the building materials and furniture contain recycled content.
  • Indoor air quality was protected by the use of low VOC paints, adhesives, carpet, and furniture in addition to formaldehyde free composite wood products for the millwork, furniture, and doors.
  • 100% of their power is from renewable wind energy generated in west Texas.

The project has been submitted for a LEED Gold certification. And ultimately, the NRG Texas headquarters helps to strengthen the NRG – Reliant Energy brand while providing a unique opportunity to display this brand to the public, symbolizing a successful merger of the two companies.

Written By
More from Brian Malarkey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *