Photography Credit Jasper Sanidad.
Two imperatives framed the design at Alibaba’s San Francisco office: first, a desire to do justice to the existing space’s beautiful bones; second, the client’s request that the company’s warm brand colors be incorporated into its office. As China’s largest e-commerce company, Alibaba is the Amazon of Asia and increasingly a global presence in online sales—but its San Francisco staff is small, and the office O+A designed for them became another in the company’s growing portfolio of jewel-box spaces.
Located on the 26th floor of one of the city’s Art Deco masterpieces—the old PacBell Building, built in 1925—the new Alibaba office mixes modern austerity with refinements from a more ornamental age. Nowhere is that transition better illustrated than in the office’s bright kitchen. Here raw concrete and exposed ductwork flow seamlessly into white cabinetry, white countertops and minimalist white furniture. Warming it all up are original hardwood floors and a band of decorative plaster that travels the 20-foot ceilings from 1925 straight through to the 21st century.
These bands, hand-painted Michelangelo-style by an artisan on a ladder, set the autumnal palette of the space. With interior brick walls, wood mullions and brass details—even the door hinges are brass—Alibaba’s brand colors become the starting point for an exercise in gradations of warmth. The big windows and glass-walled conference rooms keep the space bathed in natural light and the broad sightlines add clarity and scale.
Alibaba wanted this beautiful space beautifully furnished and gave personal attention to every task chair and table. Each piece was road-tested for at least a month before it was ordered, a process made more manageable by an accident of proximity: Knoll’s San Francisco showroom was conveniently located on the floor below.