Studio O+A is a San Francisco-based interior design firm founded by Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander during the early 1990s. Their focus is on identifying and understanding the start-up culture and translating it into spatial terms. They recognize the economic and sociological forces that are transforming the way people work and live: the blurring boundaries between home and office, the ever increasing mobility of the workforce and the fluid movement of information.
You assert “The start-up mentality is still a key feature of the O+A aesthetic”: what exaclty means “start-up mentality” in your opinion?
Most start-ups begin with the idea of doing something better, faster, more efficiently, more effectively, more enjoyably than it’s been done in the past. The start-up mentality is constantly analyzing and questioning existing conditions, existing protocols and procedures. It’s a way of looking at things that is both receptive and critical. Receptive to new ideas, but always testing them for how sound they are, how they hold up in practice. Our designs are intended to help entrepreneurs find and implement the business practices that work best for them without regard to stale conventions of what a workplace should be.
Your planning model is focused on identifying and understanding the corporate culture. How has the corporate culture changed in the past few years? Have these changes an impact on the interior design?
Corporate culture has become a lot less formal, a lot less hierarchical than it used to be. The emphasis now is on collaboration and on building a work environment that encourages everyone -not just the r & d team- to be creative. One thing all our clients ask for is more meeting space, a greater variety of meeting spaces. It’s understood that people work best when they’re relaxed and trading ideas with their colleagues. A well-designed office can promote that kind of collaborative work. But it has to be balanced with concentration space, because some work can only be done quietly in a heads-down environment. So the new corporate culture recognizes that workplace is no longer a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. An effective workplace is one in which all employees can move seamlessly from one type of space to the other depending on the needs of the moment.It’s all about unlocking potential and getting the most out of each individual.
Office and home are two possible opportunities. Which “third spaces” do you imagine?
Increasingly our clients are looking for in-house cafes in their offices. They want to see recreation areas. This is not about “making work fun” per se. It’s more a recognition that creativity grows from a mix of work and leisure. That good ideas often spring to mind when you’re doing something other than the project at hand. For that reason fully-equipped workshops where people can use tools to tinker and invent, fix their bicycles or build something, are also popular. All of these spaces refresh and replenish.
What scenarios and evolutions do you expect for the office and the ways of working/living in the near future?
We think the work environment is going to get more fluid than it already is. This is the gift we’ve been given by modern communications technology, this ability to work anywhere. That doesn’t necessarily mean working from home,hough that’s part of it. It also means moving your “desk” around the office (in the form of a laptop or a tablet) according to what’s happening that day. It means having a staff meeting in the company’s café, or in the café down the street or in a taxi on the way to the airport. It means working at any time of the day or night. All of these things are happening already in the new workplace, and it’s only going to get more diverse, more unstructured.
Another trend we’re seeing is an increasing respect for the values and textures of the past. Especially in design, entrepreneurs want their businesses to connect with a tradition—often an industrial or craft-oriented tradition—that carries the stamp of recognizably human effort. Because of the digital nature of much of today’s economy, there is a strong appreciation for the tangible.
Exclusive interview by Renata Sias, editor WOW! Webmagazine.
Photo by Jasper Sanidad, courtesy O+A.
1,2,3, Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington (59,000 square foot) is a prototype of the work being done there, based on maximum flexibility, collaborative and creatively stimulating spaces. The office of the future, as envisioned by O+A and Microsoft, is an amalgam of classic industrial textures, vanguard technology, and a mix of heads-down and heads-up environments.
4,5, Climate Corp is a company at which the work -compiling and analyzing climate- related data to develop comprehensive weather insurance for agricultural businesses is reflected overtly in the workplace. The most striking feature of design accentuates the global reach of the company’s mission. Suspended above a large common area where reception, kitchen and conference room meet, a nine-foot diameter, projection screen globe “spins” as a reminder of the ever changing flow of weather on earth. The spin is, in fact, an illusion. Three projectors pointing at the globe (and keyed to computer programs managed from the reception desk) give the white ball its planetary content and motion.