The mission of the popular file hosting and sharing platform Dropbox is to make it easy for people to work comfortably from anywhere. So when it came time to design its new deluxe San Francisco headquarters, Dropbox wanted the space to do the same thing. Now completed, it’s an office that Dropbox likens to a city plaza: a mixture of public and semiprivate spaces that encourage workers to find their own personal bliss.
The new headquarters, which will combine all of Dropbox’s San Francisco employees under the same roof for the first time, is a collaboration between New York’s AvroKo (an architecture firm that has previously done design work for Boka and the Four Seasons) and the San Francisco architecture firm Rapt Studio. On the Dropbox side, the project was overseen by Glara Ahn, Dropbox’s spaces design lead, as well as Claire Pederson, a designer on Dropbox’s black ops project.
According to Ahn, the project to build a new Dropbox headquarters started around three years ago. “Previously, the San Francisco office was split up between two buildings,” Ahn says. “We wanted to merge these two halves into a coherent organism, in a space that was just like Dropbox the product: a combination of simplicity and function that was collaborative but still felt individualistic and human.”
A tall order, but during the research phase, Dropbox realized that it wasn’t going to get there with a one-size-fits-all design solution. “We asked all our employees to sketch out their hourly experience, and how they liked to work,” Ahn says. From there, it became clear that employees not only liked a lot of variety in their work environments depending on what they were doing, they also liked being able to switch up their spaces depending on how they were feeling.
The finished Dropbox headquarters mixes public, semipublic, and private spaces, each catering to a different kind of employee mood. It looks almost like a warehouse of different classic film sets, where employees can choose the world they want to work in that day.
Take the quiet productivity spaces. There are two of them. One, the Library, has a pink, airy, cultured aesthetic that Ahn says was inspired by the interiors of Italian opera houses, with sunlight-filled side nooks that encourage quiet one-on-one conversations, perhaps over a cappuccino. It’s an open space that feels intimate–a far cry from the other space, called Deep Focus, which looks like it comes straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, or other ’60s sci-fi movies. Ahn describes it as a “moodier” space that would be a better choice for a lone programmer cranking away with his head down than the Library, which is designed to make people still feel as if they are taking part in a community, even when they are trying to meet a deadline.
Other spaces evoke different moods. One of Dropbox’s meeting rooms is covered in tiles of Danish porcelain, giving it a pristine, peaceful feeling. Another almost feels like a Japanese boardroom, complete with a wall-sized mural of falling water. There’s a room that looks like the most bitchin’ rec room the 1970s had to offer, a lounge that could pass for a living room, and a rooftop garden with an assortment of Northern California plants that lets workers check out a beautiful panorama of the San Francisco skyline. The smallest room, the Huddle room, is big enough for only two people; the biggest rooms, called Transformer Rooms, are unbookable, first-come-first-served spaces that can transform into any kind of room required, whether that’s a conference area or a huge classroom.
Up to 1,500 different Dropbox employees will work from the new San Francisco office every day. Ultimately, Ahn hopes that the design of the headquarters caters to each and every one of them, in whole and in part. A lot of times, she says, office designs can forget about the people in favor of the statement, or the aesthetic, but it’s important to keep in mind what design is ultimately about. “It’s not about the things you fill a room with, whether that’s marble, or antiques, or whatever,” Ahn says. “It’s about the human who is going to be there, and where they find their happiness.”