Slack Headquarters took home the Winner Built Environment Award in the 2020 Core77 Design Awards competition.
When forming the concept behind the design for Slack's new headquarters in San Francisco, architecture studio O+A focused in on an activity close to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield's heart: hiking and a love of the outdoors. "One of [Butterfield's] goals for the space was to generate the kind of cooperative spirit and resourcefulness he knew from interactions with fellow hikers," O+A notes. "O+A's solution was to create a floor-by-floor evocation of the landscapes that make up the Pacific Crest Trail—desert, mountains, forest—in effect to turn a trip up the elevator into a virtual trip from Baja to the Pacific Northwest."
The ultimate goal was to link parallels between hiking a trail in the wilderness and work. A core tenet of the design concept was emoting the idea that work projects, like every hike, are a process of discovery. In addition to creating a space promoting a tranquility that only the outdoors can provide, employees can also take a mental break by taking notice of the design elements around them mimicking natural phenomena. As mentioned by O+A, "You turn a corner and there is a wall installation that replicates the topography of Lake Tahoe in a way that seems to float in space. You walk down a pathway and there is a "starry night" room like a stage set from a Sam Shepard play. You take your laptop to a lounge area and the light changes according to the time of day."
The office was also designed in a modular fashion, which serves as a nod to the idea that hiking the same trail again always brings about new surprises. So every floor at the Slack Headquarters is built in a way that interiors can easily be moved around to adapt to changing needs of a single-work session or even a months-long project.
Another issue the design team behind Slack HQ wanted to address was the question of how the monotony of an office can directly contribute to the dissatisfaction of their employees. O+A adds, "Health and wellness innovations in workplace design typically address specific ergonomic or quality-of-life issues—sit-to-stand workstations or better access to sunlight. At Slack the idea was not to solve a problem, but to create an environment that encouraged activity and mental acuity by mirroring the stimulations of nature."
One solution in this regard was changing the typical wayfinding experience in offices. O+A says "most office complexes are planned to line up vertically so that the layout on Floor 5 is more or less the same as the layout on Floor 6. The continuity makes wayfinding easier and allows plumbing and electrical systems to be coordinated economically. At Slack every floor is different. Slack's team saw a value in having each floor reflect the variety and irregularity of nature. Wayfinding on a mountain trail, for example, is often a matter of conferring with other hikers. The unique configurations of each floor at Slack echo the mental stimulation—and need for community— that comes with taking a new path."
Another feature worth noting was the office's use of light, which simulates natural outdoor lighting that also works to signify when work is over, which O+A adds is "quite unusual in the 24/7 culture of tech." There are plenty of spaces like living walls and quiet hideaways built in that offer moments of refuge and quiet when needed, similar to what one might experience on a solo hike in the forest.
Slack's interiors were carefully designed with a simple end goal: to reassure employees that work doesn't have to equate to constant stress. What O+A hoped to achieve was to create a space "that had a healthful effect merely by dialing back the stress inherent in 'going to work'. And maybe after work, employees will even be inspired to hit the great outdoors themselves.
Read more about the Slack Headquarters design on our Core77 Design Awards site of 2020 honorees
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