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Microsoft’s New San Francisco Office Designed for Interaction

By Neil Gonzales

Crossing California Street toward the iconic tower formerly known as the Bank of America building in the Financial District, one can easily spot where Microsoft’s new San Francisco office is located.

The large, tall windows on the second floor of 555 California reveal on the inside splashes of Microsoft’s brand colors and an intriguing arrangement of jigsaw-like, free-standing structures.

From down on the street, the office looks bright, playful and warm – especially so on a nippy early December morning when I was invited to tour the place.

The kind of reaction I had of the office from the outside is exactly what Microsoft intended, I learned. The Redmond, Wash.-based technology giant wanted the office to be instantly visible and inviting from the street – part of an effort to foster increased interaction with customers, employees, partners and the local community.

Relocating from the Westfield San Francisco Centre building in the South of Market district, Microsoft hired local architecture firm Blitz to design the new digs, which measures 43,500 square feet and includes the third floor. Blitz fairly blitzed through the project, starting work July 2014 and finishing in January 2015.

After stepping out of the elevator reveals a spacious lobby with high ceilings, which extend throughout the second floor and expose beams and pipes above. From the inside, those big windows – which reach close to ceiling height – seem to bring neighboring downtown buildings into the office.

A receptionist recommends I wait for my tour guides in a small café-type area, which has a self-serve coffee bar and seating under a lighted sign that says “Innovate.”

My guides soon arrive to take me through the office, which a Blitz project Web site describes “as a showroom for innovation and discovery.”

The office “blends employee work space with a customer-facing technology center to create a space that provides real-life demonstration of Microsoft products and services,” the Blitz site adds.

Moving through this space, I feel a little like I’m walking along the circuit board deep inside one of those Microsoft products as the office design features curves and angles that create interesting nooks, regions and sightlines.

The jigsaw-like structures I noticed from the outside are individual meeting-room pavilions with angular shapes and carved exteriors.

The design firm explains that the “orientation of each pavilion is harmoniously parallel to the unique saw-toothed footprint of the building to allow for maximum daylighting within all interior spaces. Carved spaces on the exterior of the pavilions create clear way-finding while also providing small breakout spaces for impromptu meetings or private employee focus space. Areas between the pavilions incorporate diverse furniture pieces to provide a variety of work spaces.”

Here and there on pavilion walls, carpet and furniture Microsoft colors of red, green, blue and yellow show. Panel sails suspended from the ceilings also glow that palette, playfully mimicking the company’s logo or flying-windows screensaver. The incorporation of the company colors in the office makeup recently garnered Blitz an award in Interior Design magazine’s inaugural MakeItWork competition.

The sails lead visitors to a staircase along which a digital mossy wall appears. The wall responds to people’s movements, sprouting California poppies and releasing flying monarch butterflies.

Past this wall are areas dedicated to employees, and the pavilions and floating sails give way to workstations and additional conference rooms.

The employee areas still maintain the open plan found in the rest of the office to promote worker interaction and collaboration. A variety of informal work spaces also helps encourage employees to do their tasks from any spot they feel comfortable.

“Since work can be performed anywhere,” Blitz’s project description offers, “the company sees the workplace as more of a ‘meeting space’ where connections and relationships are forged at an eye-to-eye level.”

Photo courtesy of www.designblitzsf.com/projects/microsoft/