Which Has the Cooler Office, AOL or Facebook?
When judging this year's World's Coolest Offices entries, we noticed a couple Silicon Valley stand-outs-;and they had a lot in common. Both designs focused on exposed, raw materials, open space, and collaborate workstations. Both were to house Internet media giants-;and both were designed by the same firm. So, instead of honoring the new offices of both Facebook and AOL, we decided to step back and let you decide which is cooler. What sets them apart? One's an Internet 1.0 company that's trying to move into the future; the other is a modern social-media megalith. One redesigned building is 1960s, the other 1990s. Inc.com's Christine Lagorio spoke with architect Primo Orpilla, who along with Verda Alexander founded Studio O+A, the firm behind both offices. Learn which one he's want to work in-;and cast your vote below for which office you think is cooler. Just scroll down for lots of photos below.
Let's talk about Facebook first. What was the concept behind that office?
After the dot-bomb, the market was improving, but the recession was just hitting us, and no one wanted to make big moves in design. Facebook was like the un-design. We sought to create an office that's as minimalistic as its online platform. When we designed it, the underpinnings of the space plan were very complete, but we left it fairly raw. We left a lot of the design up to the occupants-;much like the way people post the photos they want on their Facebook walls. Everything was customizable. It went viral right away, a lot of blogs picked it up. No one had seen something like that-;and I think it had such an effect, because it was the next greatest thing in office design coming right on the heels of the Googleplex.
What was it like to have such a bright spotlight on that project?
When we first got Facebook as a client, they weren't as big as they became, of course. They were in 10 or so buildings all over Palo Alto. So we just kind of knew this thing could blow up, but our main concern was getting the client into its new facility from 10 buildings, and bringing all their engineers, developers, HR, and legal departments into one building. They're very young, very aware of aesthetics, and very aware that everything they do is a reflection of them. Every entrepreneur has a different way of doing business, and they were very aware that all eyes would be on them, so they didn't want to do something too grand.
What are your favorite features of the new Facebook office?
Well, it was a former lab for HP, and I think our overall respect for the building, and keeping some of those elements alive in this new iteration worked well. Reusing things was important: the kitchenettes and break areas were all reused from old lab stations. This is a well known story, but there was a crane left in the facility-;we took it and recycled it into a conference table. I think everyone also appreciated the fact that we let them embellish and take over the look and feel so it's branded by them.
Let's talk also about AOL.
It is the oppisite of a start-up. It's a 30-year-old company. It's had many iterations, many lives. We've taken the company from its facilities in Mountain View-;we were tasked with taking the new rebrtanding from a graphics view and applying it to the space. We wanted to sort of peel back the layers and get to what AOL might have been like back in the beginning, tearing back history. So you'll see throughout the buiding there are areas that is torn away to the original building. We used very honest, simple materials. The boardroom table is a recycled wine barrel. We call it getting back to basics. That's the design. you can kind of see it and feel it when you walk in there. You couldn't tell that before, it was all covered in drop ceilings, panels.
So would you say it's similar to Facebook's office?
The spaceplan, like the Facebook, they're into programming and having large all-hands areas that can be multifunctional. They can be a games room, they can be a speaker venue, they can be a break room. It's not just a training room, but like a big town hal, where anyone can get up on their soapbox and explain anything. We are big on kitchens, anywhere that people can interact and cross-polinate.
What's the kitchen like?
It's like the coolest exhibition kitchen you could find in the mission in San Francisco. We're taking a cue from restaurants-;very open kitchen and brushed steel. These rooms also are wirelessly connected so you can work in these rooms, you can hang out there rather than being chained to your desk all day. In an open office, you don't want people kind of hiding. It's all about transparency. The conference rooms are very open, and glassy. They come in different shapes and sizes. We try to make sure that different kinds of meetings take place.
Any other favorite features at the new AOL? Well, it'll be totally finished in about two weeks. We're still installing a food-truck-like vending station downstairs, with Blue Bottle Coffee. That'll certainly be a great hub of activity as well.
OK, be honest: Which would you rather work in?
The aesthetics are slightly different in each one, but I actually could work in either one. Facebook is in a 60s building and AOL is a 90s building. I think they both have really neat details.
CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.
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