01 The New HQ
For reimagining the modern workplace
For people accustomed to spending their days in an office, the pandemic-driven shift to working from home meant extraordinary upheaval. But it also ushered in a transformative (and often heated) debate over whether the office had ever truly served the needs of the employee—and whether a happier, healthier employee might be a more productive one. (Spoiler on that last bit: The answer is yes.) At the same time, executives and employees alike saw benefits to having an established place to come together and collaborate as a team. As millions of companies crafted—and tweaked—their return-to-office plans, it became clear to many that sticking with the same old, same old wasn’t an option. And so began a massive collective brainstorm to imagine a better way forward.
Perhaps nowhere has this shift been more apparent than in the rethinking of the physical spaces in which work occurs. The past year unleashed a wave of ground-breaking ceremonies for groundbreaking new workplaces, where employee well-being and flexibility are as fundamental to the structure as bricks and mortar or glass and steel.
Here’s a snapshot of seven of-the-moment workplaces built for how work gets done now—and in the future.
The Space: Bay View Campus, Mountain View, California, USA
“Technology is advancing at such a rapid clip, it’s impossible to know what work will look like 20 years, 10 years or even five years from now,” says Michelle Kaufmann, an architect and Google‘s director of R&D for the built environment. “So our goal for this project was to create the most flexible structure imaginable, while eliminating as many of the historic barriers and frictions that a traditional built environment can introduce to an employee’s day.”
The eight-years-in-the-making result? Bay View, the first office campus developed by Google. Co-designed by BIG and Heatherwick Studio, the scale of the dome-shaped building is inspired in part by “the flexibility of enormous World War II-era hangars at adjacent Moffett Airfield, which were built quickly during the war to house dirigibles but have had many subsequent uses,” says Christopher McAnneny, project leader and senior associate at Heatherwick Studio. The team was drawn to the hangars’ enduring adaptable nature, as well as their volume, long-span structural bays and ample interior light.
Though only two levels, Bay View Campus incorporates all three elements. “Ground floor is where all the action happens—the meeting rooms, the eating venues, all the support functions,” says Linus Saavedra, a senior project manager at BIG. The upper level is devoted to focused, head-down work, while still allowing for what Kaufmann calls “ad hoc shoulder-tap collaborations” and team focus.
Drawing on years of data the Google UX teams collected about things like distractions and how much conversation occurs throughout the day, the project team further divided the upper floor into smaller “neighborhoods” of up to 50 people, separated by courtyards and connected via ramps that rise gradually as employees approach the center of the office space.
“We realized that what people really need is their teams and what teams really need are communities, and these communities work best when there aren’t barriers fragmenting them,” says Kaufmann. “So we designed the space to help people feel connected to each other at different scales simultaneously.”
The office officially opened in May but will likely morph over time.
How? Kaufmann won’t hazard a guess, but the Silicon Valley giant is ready to adapt. “Google is looking toward the future of work,” says McAnneny. “Create an environment where Googlers can do their best work, spaces that allow for focus, spaces that allow for a variety of collaboration, but ultimately a place where they want to be.”
The Space: Multifunctional Workspace Building, Grenzach-Wyhlen, Germany
What work cannot be done remotely? It’s one of the many questions Swiss architecture firm Christ & Gantenbein considered while working on the new 10,000-square-meter (107,639-square-foot) workspace for German pharmaceutical giant Roche, which was completed in September.
“The project embodies an alternative to the traditional office and the home office,” says Daniel Monheim, partner in charge at Christ & Gantenbein.
“It’s a nonhierarchical space that brings people together and invites unrestrained movement—epitomizing the architectural translation of the cultural shift around new ways of working.”
Take, for example, the building’s staircases and mechanical elements, which have been shifted to the four corners to create a column-free interior that maximizes flexibility. On the first floor, a 550-seat auditorium can be partitioned into three individual halls to support simultaneous gatherings or more intimate meetings.
Roche also commissioned bespoke mobile seating elements to flexibly facilitate worker needs, including meeting hubs (set-apart areas for convening) and agility space (tiered seats designed for problem-solving sprints). And the mix of individual workspaces, privacy zones and conference rooms on the floors above include minimal permanent fixtures so stations can be reconfigured with ease.
The Space: North American Headquarters, Portland, Oregon, USA
Not every office has a football pitch on its front lawn. But the feature is a cleverly on-brand enticement for employees who might otherwise be hesitant to schlep into the new Adidas office. In September 2021, the sports gear and apparel giant completed a three-year project to expand its campus by some 460,000 square feet (42,735 square meters). And though the project’s start predates the pandemic, there’s no question of its influence on the finished product, which includes three sleek new buildings filled with employee-centric spaces for gathering, collaborating and, yes, sweating.
Rupert Campbell, president of Adidas North America, says creating “world-class facilities that inspire our people,” was a central ethos of the project, noting that employee “passion, energy and creativity is what makes Adidas a special place.”
With that in mind, architecture and design firms Lever, Studio O+A and GGN went big on recreation. The Performance Zone is 31,000 square feet (2,880 square meters) of gym space and boutique fitness studios, along with a juice bar, yoga center, rooftop lounge and coworking space. Signage throughout the new buildings nods to the wayfinding graphics in sports stadiums.
Workspaces feature fewer individual desks and more library-style tables. Collaboration zones were inspired by living rooms (with comfy couches clustered around coffee tables) and sports stadiums (with bleacher-style seating). And a new MakerLab invites employees to try their hand at creating new products. Game on!
The Space: 11-21 Canal Reach, London, United Kingdom
The largest office building on London’s King’s Cross Estate, Meta’s new U.K. headquarters leans heavy on biophilia. Designed by Bennetts Associates, TP Bennett and Gehry Partners, the open, airy, artfully landscaped office is a marvel of indoor-outdoor symbiosis, designed for employees to revel in the joy of nature. There are 3,900 square meters (41,979 square feet) of rooftop gardens and communal terrace space (plants carefully chosen for their biodiversity, natch), as well as lush interior gardens, a spacious atrium and floor-to-ceiling, fully glazed windows that optimize temperatures and daylight.
Along with promoting employee well-being, the project prioritized reducing carbon emissions and the use of “first life” (or nonrecycled) materials—perhaps in a nod to the fact that workers increasingly expect employers to take a stand on environmental issues. The project team created the facade from recycled aluminum and replaced a significant amount of traditional concrete with GGBS (Ground Granulated Blast-furnace Slag), a waste product from the steel industry. Following a three-year build, the office opened in March as the tech giant’s largest hub outside the United States, soon to be followed by another King’s Cross location—with an extensive wraparound terrace.
The Space: Dropbox Studios, San Francisco, California, USA
When companies went fully remote during the early days of the pandemic, most did so on a temporary basis. Not Dropbox. The San Francisco file storage company decided to go permanently WFH in late 2020. But in July 2021, the company’s chief people officer, Melanie Collins, noted that human interaction was “something our employees have really missed.” To satisfy that craving for human connection without the hassle of a hybrid workforce, the company unveiled a project to reimagine its offices as Dropbox Studios.
The collaborative spaces are designed not for daily use by the company’s roughly 2,700 employees, but for periodic meetings between groups, team-building exercises, and special training and educational sessions. As such, they include spacious conference rooms, movable furniture and adjustable wall systems to support flexible collaboration, along with ample seating in the on-site coffee shop for employees who want to connect one on one. And instead of the fancy food, massive library and karaoke bar employees once made use of at the old office, employees now get an annual US$7,000 allowance to pick their own perks.
The project aligns with the company’s mission “to design a more enlightened way of working,” and the new office “is an example of how we’re living that out: a distributed team building products for distributed teams,” says Collins. Every city that once had a Dropbox office now has a studio, with plans to eventually roll out the concept to new locations, including Seattle, Tokyo and Tel Aviv. The project team also established an internal feedback system so it can track how the space is used, with plans to evolve the space in lockstep with employees’ evolving needs.
The Space: 270 Park Avenue, New York City, New York, USA
Company: JPMorgan Chase
Towering 500 feet (152 meters) taller than its predecessor and with a capacity of 14,000 employees—versus only 3,500 at its former location—the new global headquarters for JPMorgan Chase will be a serious upgrade. And that’s true not just due to its size, but the ambition driving its design.
To create a “world-class wellness and hospitality experience for employees,” the financial giant turned to architecture firm Foster + Partners, as well as a team of experts, including wellness guru Dr. Deepak Chopra, famed restauranteur Danny Meyer from Union Square Hospitality Group and Joseph Allen of Harvard University’s Healthy Buildings program.
The impacts on the project plans are both subtle and significant: The design doubles the amount of fresh air that comes into the building compared to similar structures, while using sensors, AI and machine learning systems to predict, respond and adapt to energy needs. Communal areas have been expanded by 50 percent, and designers allocated 25 percent more volume of space per employee. An on-site wellness center features not just fitness areas and cycling studios, but also rooms for physical therapy, medical services and meditation spaces. Slated to be completed in 2025, the global HQ boasts an impressive sustainability profile, including all-electric and net-zero operations, with the team pursuing LEED Platinum status.
“Designed with a health-first mindset in all aspects, this project proves you can have both excellent indoor air quality for occupants, while also addressing sustainability goals that improve the health of the community,” says Allen.
The Space: Secure Factory, Sanand, India
Company: Secure Meter
“Employee morale is a popular concept within the design of office-based workspaces, but it tends to be overlooked in industrial facilities,” says Ananya Singhal, co-founder of Studio Saar.
Not anymore, if Singhal has anything to say about it.
As they set about designing a factory in Sanand for Indian electronics manufacturer Secure Meters, Singhal and his co-founder Jonny Buckland were given a simple challenge: “Create an environment to make complex, cutting-edge technology that uplifts the spirits of those in the workplace.”
The key to balancing manufacturing’s focus on efficiency and security with the workforce’s need to decompress and recharge? Separating what might be one large factory into four purpose-driven buildings: one for manufacturing, another for employee meals and recreation, another dedicated to reception, and a utility bay. The site debuted in February with sheltered walkways covered by undulating fabric canopies that double as a wayfinding tool to guide people through the site.
The project specs also include a requirement to maintain all existing trees on the 25-acre (10.1-hectare) site, which is home to a flock of weaver birds. Rather than chafe at the requirement, the design duo embraced it, planting some 2,000 additional trees along the employee pathways.
Company leaders discovered another benefit of the design’s separate structures at one point during the pandemic when employee travel became too risky: They converted the canteen into temporary accommodations, housing 300 people on-site. As Buckland notes, “They could morph the use of each individual component, without compromising the whole.” Talk about flexibility.