When Slack asked O+A to create a new multi-floor headquarters in San Francisco one design story presented itself immediately. Slack's CEO is an avid outdoorsman, a hiker who goes off grid every year to recharge in wilderness environments. One of his goals for the space was that it generate the kind of cooperative spirit and resourcefulness he knew from interactions with fellow hikers. Our solution was to create a floor-by-floor evocation of the landscapes that make up the Pacific Crest Trail—desert, mountains, forest—in effect to turn a trip up the elevator into a virtual trip from Baja to the Pacific Northwest. The idea was to suggest not just a variety of topographical and botanical contexts, but to capture, as well, the experiential links between hiking a wilderness trail—and work.
Central to our concept for Slack was the idea that every work project, like every hike, is a process of discovery. Classic interior design frames large architectural moments to attract the most eyes at once. At Slack those moments come as "scenic surprises"—like an unexpected good idea. You turn a corner and there is a wall installation that replicates the topography of Lake Tahoe in a way that seems to float in space. You walk down a pathway and there is a "starry night" room like a stage set from a Sam Shepard play. You take your laptop to a lounge area and the light changes according to the time of day. In every instance the beauty is a reward for effort, a reinforcement of the idea that she who ventures away from her desk makes the most of her workday.
Hikers know that a favorite trail is never the same place twice. At different times of year and as the years progress, it changes, offering new pleasures and new challenges every time. Our design for Slack builds that capacity for change into the workspace. Every floor is equipped to adapt to the changing needs of a single work session or a months-long project. Like a natural setting, this setting inspired by nature welcomes what the day brings and reaches out to meet it.
Health and wellness innovations in workplace design typically address specific ergonomic or quality-of-life issues—sit-to-stand workstations or better access to sunlight. At Slack the idea was not to solve a problem, but to create an environment that encouraged activity and mental acuity by mirroring the stimulations of nature.
For example most office complexes are planned to line up vertically so that the layout on Floor 5 is more or less the same as the layout on Floor 6. The continuity makes wayfinding easier and allows plumbing and electrical systems to be coordinated economically. At Slack every floor is different. Slack's team saw a value in having each floor reflect the variety and irregularity of nature. Wayfinding on a mountain trail, for example, is often a matter of conferring with other hikers. The unique configurations of each floor at Slack echo the mental stimulation—and need for community— that comes with taking a new path.
Similarly O+A's use of light attuned to circadian rhythm built a natural clock into the work day that is quite unusual in the 24/7 culture of tech. A plethora of living walls and quiet hideaways offered natural relief valves to workers in the heart of urban San Francisco. A designated "no-talking" room instantly attracted wide use—with floor to ceiling windows looking out to the bustling streets of the city, it was like a scenic overlook in a national park, a place for reflection, contemplation, regeneration.
Cumulatively all of these spaces created an environment that had a healthful effect merely by dialing back the stress inherent in "going to work." When the day's activity unfolds in a desert oasis or along a mountain lake, can we really call it work?