Photography Credit Jasper Sanidad.
Travis Kalanick, CEO of the mobile-based car hire service Uber, likes to walk during business meetings—even when the meetings are held indoors. Uber’s new San Francisco headquarters includes a quarter-mile track painted onto the concrete floor and meandering through the office’s workstations and common areas. “A quarter of a mile exactly,” says O+A Principal Denise Cherry. “Down to the inch.” Cherry, who spearheaded design of the new space, imagines that repeated use will wear the track thin in spots, creating a weathered imperfection that is a deliberate goal of the design.
Appreciation for the beauty of the “perfectly imperfect,” the irregular, the work-in-progress is a philosophy that has served Uber well in the five years of its existence. In that five years it has grown from a mobile app for San Franciscans fed up with poor taxi service to a transportation option currently available in 29 countries. As with most of O+A’s designs, Uber’s headquarters is more than a suite of elegant interiors. It is an architectural expression of the company’s values and aspirations. Like Uber’s service, the new office isn’t meant to be futuristic—just better.
“There’s a mystique to Uber’s brand,” Cherry says. “It’s a sexy brand—kind of mysterious. That’s from the outside. From the inside they’re totally transparent.” Arrivals at the new office in San Francisco will experience that shift in perception physically. The elevator lobby framed in onyx glass (like the tinted glass of a limousine) opens up into a white reception space with broad sightlines.
O+A’s spaces always echo the philosophy of the client, but what sets an O+A design apart is the way it drills down into the minutiae of a company’s operation. The finish choices on this project reflect both branches of Uber’s two-tiered service. Uber Black, the luxury car option, is represented by the black glass of that elevator lobby and by stand-alone meeting structures clad in copper and oxidized maple. Inside are leather wall panels laser-etched with the maps of cities in which Uber operates. Uber X, the economy car alternative, finds expression in raw concrete floors, raw steel and the Polygal walls of an impromptu meeting space.
Meeting rooms positioned throughout the vast footprint are equipped with wall-mounted touch-screen booking tablets next to the door so users can see at a glance what is scheduled for that space and reserve it hour by hour. Touch-screen technology is ubiquitous here. Visitors sign in by way of a bank of screens at the reception—and get their pictures taken! And everywhere there are maps. A guiding design motif throughout the office, the abstract patterns of the world’s city streets—on video screens, on walls, on space dividers—capture the essence of Uber’s urban mission.
Artful, subtle, elegant in its subdued color choices—but of course it all has to work.
“A room designed for maximum efficiency,” is what Travis Kalanick ordered up for the company’s “war room.” O+A created a concrete-clad bunker with a sloping ceiling and a fully-equipped coffee bar so problem-solving teams, in Denise Cherry’s words, “will never have to leave.” Switch glass can turn the bunker from transparent to opaque in an instant. But by far the most striking feature of the space is the “God view” wall—an assembly of wall-mounted interactive screens which will map every car in every city that Uber serves—from Montreal to Mumbai, Paris to Panama City. It’s an improvement on the old taxi concept of a central dispatcher— a central dispatcher gone global.
Not futuristic. Just better.