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Into the Woods

Eco meets techno at Capital One's Goochland campus.

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The first thing you notice when you drive along the winding roads into the campus is a refreshing lack of water-sucking lawns, spraying fountains, pansies or manicured crape-myrtle trees. In fact, old crooked trees tower over the four-story structures sitting in pine needles and mulch.

If you're a conservationist, you'll also spot Weir walls — structures here and there that look like picket fences; they're there to help deal naturally with water drainage and control. As for the buildings themselves, they aren't protruding into the skyline.

"We actually sent up small weather bal loons and then drove around to see how high we could float them without being seen outside the campus," explains Capital One spokesman Hamilton Holloway. "When we moved to Goochland, we made a conscious decision to blend in. Even though we'll eventually have several thousand people working here, we don't want anyone to really notice."

Some trees did, of course, meet the chopper (on the advice of hired arborists, by the way, who also pointed out delicate root systems to avoid.) But they didn't die in vain. Their remnants make up various walking paths into the woods, all provided so that employees — always urged to "think out of the box" — can do so in a setting that's out of the box.

So walk West Creek campus located off of Route 288 in Goochland. Why a field trip to corporate digs? Because Capital One — Richmond's longstanding champ among places to work — has managed to create two of nine planned buildings on a campus that, as advertised, look positively "at one with nature."

The buildings, each housing about 600 people, are partly the result of a $700 million plan to consolidate and improve the Virginia operations. The company broke ground a year ago. And although the campus may not come cheap, it's probably one of the few places people

With its Starbucks feel and ultra-cool interiors, Capital One gives employees a break from the cubicle.

ing trails it is, along with a meadow (right now just a big mud hole outside the swanky "Capital Yum" cafeteria), basketball courts and what will eventually become a gym.

The inside isn't quite so outdoorsy, but it's no less inviting. The whole thing has an open feel — not like the beige, air-controlled box most of us are used to. Huge windows let in lots of light and views of the woods; all the closed offices were put on the interior. To be honest, it does have a Starbuckish feel: industrial metals paired with light-colored woods and walls painted in corals, purples and aquas.

But it's also a place so darn pretty you'd almost be happy to sell your soul in exchange for the on-site cappuccino bar. (And where else would you get java anyway? Innsbrook, which is Siberia to anyone in the city, is about six miles east — closer to the city.) Even the potty is sleek with its cabana doors and a long stone sink-counter that lopes up and down like ski moguls.

Truly, the Jefferson couldn't do it better. Who dreamed this up? Hillier Associates was the architectural firm, but a lot of ideas also came from the people who work there. (This could explain the indoor putting green on the second floor.) Test teams gave input about things like the pillow-topped file cabinets that double as chairs, all the way to the extra-wide staircases that let employees walk three across — just in case they're having an informal meeting on the way to … oh, the cool bathroom.

All right, maybe all this detail is just a little over the top. Really, a putting green? Then again, for a company that pumps more than $1.3 billion annually into Virginia's gross state product, why not? By the year 2010, Capital One projects making an additional $1.1 billion, with Richmond expected to capture 75 percent of the projected increase.

The fact that the company even bothered to think about preserving nature as best as such behemoth office structures would allow is actually pretty good. "We think it's the right thing to do," Holloway explains. "When we build a campus, we want to do it right for all concerned. We each care about the environment in our private lives. Our work life is just an extension of that." Construction on the campus should be complete by 2005. "We're a test-and-learn company," Holloway says, when asked if the other buildings will be as innovative. "We'll keep what works well." S

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