The COVID-19 Pandemic is a disruptive moment for our world, and it’s poised to spur transformative shifts in design, from how we experience our homes and offices to the plans of our cities. The webcast series Design Disruption explores these shifts—and address issues like climate change, inequality, and the housing crisis— through chats with visionaries like architects, designers, planners and thinkers; putting forward creative solutions and reimagining the future of the built environment.
Episode 2 will be streamed online on ArchDaily, YouTube and Facebook today, Monday, July 6, at 12 pm EST, and will focus on the future of the office. Our guests will be Eliot Postma, partner at London-based Heatherwick Studio, and Verda Alexander, co-founder of San Francisco-based Studio O+A.
At a new corporate headquarters in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, there’s a double-height lobby filled with green walls and massive art installations. Travel to its top floor roof deck and you’ll find a cozy fire pit next to a fitness center and bar (happy hours are on Thursday). Elsewhere, stair-seating terraces face floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Chicago skyline. This vertical campus settles in peaceably among its tony Randolph Street neighbors—Michelin stars, tech giants, and boutique hotels. At first glance, it’s refined and tasteful enough to be any one of these.
Although office design has dramatically and drastically changed over the course of the 20th century, we aren't finished yet. San Francisco firmO+A is actively searching for today's optimal office design, designing work spaces to encourage both concentration and collaboration by merging elements from the cubicle-style office with those popularized by Steve Jobs. In this article, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as “Noises Off,” Eva Hagberg takes a look at some of their built works.
In the beginning was the cubicle. And the cubicle was almost everywhere, and the cubicle held almost everyone, and it was good. Then there was the backlash, and the cubicle was destroyed, put aside, swept away in favor of the open plan, the endless span of space, floor, and ceiling—punctuated by the occasional column so that the roof wouldn’t collapse onto the floor plate—and everyone talked about collaboration, togetherness, synergy, randomness and happenstance. Renzo Piano designed a New York Times building with open stairways so writers and editors could (would have to) run into one another, and everyone remembered the always-ahead-of-the-curve Steve Jobs who, when he was running Pixar, asked for only two bathrooms in the whole Emeryville building, and insisted they be put on the ground floor lobby so that designers and renderers could (would have to) run into each other, and such was the office culture of the new millennium.
And then there was the backlash to the backlash. Those writers wanted their own offices, and editors wanted privacy, and not everyone wanted to be running into people all the time, because not everyone was actually collaborating, even though their bosses and their bosses’ bosses said that they should, because collaboration, teamwork, and togetherness—these were the new workplace buzzwords. Until they weren’t. Until people realized that they were missing—as architect Ben Jacobson said in a Gensler sponsored panel on the need to create a balance between focus and collaboration—the concept of “parallel play,” i.e. people working next to each other, but not necessarily with each other. Until individuality came back, particularly in San Francisco in the tech scene, and particularly in the iconoclastic start-up tech scene, where people began to want something a little different.
HP, Apple, Google – they all found their success amongst the peach groves and Suburban houses of California. But why? What is it about Silicon Valley that makes it the site of technological innovation the world over?
It’s tempting to assume that the Valley’s success must be, at least in part, due to its design. But how does innovation prosper? What kind of environment does it require? In a recent interview with The Atlantic Cities, Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, suggests that creativity is sparked from casual exchanges, the mingling of diversity, the constant interaction with the strange and new. In short, and as a recent study corroborates, innovation flourishes in dense metropolises.
Seemingly then, Silicon Valley, a sprawl of highways and office parks, has become a hotspot of creativity in spite of its design. But let’s not write off design just yet.
As technology makes location more and more irrelevant, many are looking to distill the magic of Silicon Valley and transplant it elsewhere. The key will be to design environments that can recreate the Valley’s culture of collaboration. The future Valleys of the world will be microsystems of creativity that imitate and utilize the structure of the city.
Studio O+A, principals Verda Alexander and Primo Orpilla, were named this week by Contract magazine as the 2011 Designers of the Year. Known for designs such as the Facebook Offices in Palo Alto, the award is recognition of Studio O+A’s consistency of bringing creative quality design to start-ups and venture firms in Silicon Valley.