Author's Note: Today is a sad day - we have lost a visionary who has changed the way that many of us live and work. Steve Jobs was instrumental to the revolution of the office; his passion for design, perfection and truth has permeated our culture, architecture and he was, and always will be, an inspiration to countless startups & entrepreneurs. RIP Steve Jobs.
As an architect, I'm always concerned that architecture is too clumsy to keep up with modern society—whose reflection, ideally, architectural design should be. However, my article today is about one of those thrilling situations where design is not only emphatic towards society but also becomes a catalyst for social processes; I'm going to be presenting you all with my favourite selection of "new-age" corporate designs. It is a fact worth noting too, that this leap toward high design by certain companies, did not occur without a helpful push by technology and the technologically minded.
An experience from 10 years ago by a friend of mine recently reminded me that, only a decade ago, getting a window cubicle was as far as office comfort in major corporations could possibly go. My friend's story involved an impromptu visit to Microsoft's Seattle campus and although her account was intently comic and exaggerated, her impression of the office space could roughly be described with this quote from 'The Matrix' where Morpheus explains:
"There are fields, Neo, endless fields where human beings are no longer born. We are grown."
It was around that time that the Internet was already ostensibly taking over the world and the major players, like Google, had already started taking their positions. The abstract nature of IT companies' work, however, ran parallel to IT professionals' reclusive reputation in every-day life and made one wonder if things could really keep going in the dystopian direction portrayed in 'The Matrix.'
Fast-forward 10 years later and, not only have none of the Internet corporation ominous scenarios ever taken place, but we are actually in a situation where most of the major tech startups have heralded a new wave of office environments marked by outstanding liberality and human-scale awareness. If sustainability is contemporary architecture's 'thing,' the high priests of Internet-based businesses have in fact brought about a trend of human-directed sustainability in the architectural and interior design of office spaces that has set up a noteworthy platform for the responsible use of human resources. With the innovation that they've injected into products that have disrupted our daily lives, the startup generation has been able to turn decades of corporate office culture on its feet and set a new standard for the way we work. Check out my favourite 10 tech company offices, and more after the break:
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Most of the companies for whom these offices were created are already widely familiar; pretty much anyone can recognise them incorporated into our every-day lives. But, what is more important, they have become pioneers in a very different, contemporary office culture which deletes the segregated cubicle, celebrates open space and the free flow of people and ideas, and redefines the relationship between work and play.
Sleek, cutting-edge office environments have clearly - for some time now - been instrumental to elevating a company's public image and hiring top talent. These designs that I presented are so much more than just aesthetic quality; they have pretty important social implications. With the advance of digital technologies and mobility, the concept of the workspace is to be redefined. As companies begin to employ design as not simply a functional background, but rather a key and active element in shaping their identity and conveying a message, they have also begun to reevaluate its potential for creating a productive environment. The most striking aspect of this is the ubiquitous bold introduction of entertainment and the encouragement of communication between people. Perhaps, behind those endeavours, lies the rational understanding that a happy and playful person - Johan Huizinga's Homo Ludens - is more motivated, active and reliable. It is a fact well known in HR circles - that in times of intensive competition and global shifts, a strong and energetic team of happy individuals could become a company's greatest asset.
As to the point of view of architects' on why it is precisely tech companies and startup cribs that have become the cradle of this revolution in office design, Studio O+A Architects' founding partner Primo Orpilla offers some insight into the matter. In an interview for SOMA magazine he shares that
"the truly great thing about startups, and what makes them so creatively exciting, is the opportunity to construct atmosphere and ambience where there was once nothing. It's instant culture..."
It will be a long time before installing colourful slides and building gourmet cafeterias becomes a worldwide corporate standard. The good news is that most of these companies have been instrumental in creating global trends over notably short time spans - maybe we'll all be sliding sooner than we think! I hope that this selection of offices might end up being a prophetic glimpse of the fun-filled future of workplaces for all of us - what do you think?