Uber, the irresistibly convenient car service that’s notorious for dubious privacy, legal, and hiring practices, is building a new campus in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district. And in a somewhat ironic spin, its 423,000 square feet of office space feature glass walls engineered with what the architects call “maximum transparency” to blur the distinction between public and private.
The work was a joint venture between architecture studio SHoP (known for the Barclays Center) and interior design firm Studio O+A (responsible for Cisco, Yelp!, and Microsoft offices). The footprint consists of an 11-story building connected by a series of three sky bridges to a six-story building across the street.
A Clever Commons Area
Inside, a spacious commons area features open staircases that connect floors and offer broad sightlines. This Commons space is one where workers can have casual interactions with one another, or hop on their laptop to check their email. “It’s hard to tell in the renderings, but we’re trying to make the commons bring in as much light as possible,” explains Omar Toro-Vaca, Associate Principal at SHoP. “We wanted this light to come inside the building, [so] we have a series of atrium light wells on top of the building, to accentuate the transparency even more.”
The light-filled commons area serves another purpose. It’s an environmental buffer zone. The use of clear glass is rare in San Francisco because of strict ecological standards, the designers tell me (clear glass can retain heat, forcing offices to blast the air-conditioning to compensate). At Uber, materials like wood and concrete, along with large rocks, help trap as much sunlight and heat as possible. But the larger architectural play permitting the use of such clear glass is that Uber’s real work space will live inside another layer of walls in the central core of the building. The office is effectively using the Commons as insulation.
Open Floor Plan Be Gone
The central work space eschews the open floor plan that’s generally championed by Silicon Valley culture. “We do a lot of work for a lot of tech companies. What we’ve found is that most people want a completely open floor plan where it feels like everyone’s trading rooms. You can stand on one side of the floor and see all the way down,” explains Studio O+A Principal Denise Cherry. “[But] a lot of people feel exposed. I think you’re seeing the pendulum swing.”
Instead, Uber is organized into “neighborhoods,” or team-by-team groupings of 30 to 60 people who need to work together on a daily basis. For all of the cross-pollination that’s championed by open floor plans, workers have the commons.
Improving The Outdoors
Uber also plans to improve the general grounds around the new campus. The company hopes to update a nearby park and add vegetation to the industrial Pierpoint Lane, creating an enjoyable walk from the campus to the water. Uber, with its invisible walls, plans to reach out to the community to fix it up.
If architecture has ever manifested as a piece of much-needed PR, it’s Uber’s new campus.
A previous version of this story attributed a quote to Denise Cherry rather than Omar Toro-Vaca.