Becoming the Tech Companies’ Architect

WSJ Article Identifies Yodle Architecture as “a Physical and a Psychological Connector”

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, staying connected is at the top of the list of priorities for tech companies when choosing an architect. In this case, the connectivity being valued isn’t mobile computing. Rather, we’re talking about building physical and psychological connectors within a workplace. Yodle’s architecture is front and center in the WSJ commercial real estate reporter’s story about why stairways are key to promoting collaboration and encouraging openness. A video that accompanied the article shows employees of the online marketing company using the main stairs for socialization, meetings, and spontaneous collaborations.

As Yodle’s architect for the tech company’s new Hudson Yards neighborhood location, HLW is quoted as attributing to stairs the capacity to “break down those silos” that have existed in companies with previously discrete departments. We often focus on creating a true heart of the space for our clients’ workplaces, and the stair can play an instrumental role in breaking down those boundaries that prevent employees from regularly entering into that “heart” space. Therefore, a central connecting stair can have many purposes, both literally connecting other public spaces, such as the café or micro-kitchen and conference rooms, within a vertical campus—and in less tangible ways, such as  influencing company culture through encouraging interdepartmental mixing.

A recent post describes what a tech company architect needs to address, including connectivity, when designing space for technology centric organizations. This post offers a few more ideas, but specific to stairways.

Architecture for Technology Companies, about Communication

Stair function isn’t just about getting from point A to point B; it’s about supporting impromptu conversations and casual collisions between individuals in passing. At Yodle, the bleacher seating is an extension of the stairs, literally, a part of the steps. Conferencing facilities and food service programming are strategically positioned on either end. This is consistent with an approach that extends the stairs, often enlarging landings, in order to allow the space to take on additional functions. Within a vertical campus environment, which is increasingly becoming more the norm for tech companies relocating to urban settings, this design strategy is particularly effective. As an internal communication device, stairs support employees in “seeing and being seen,” creating workplace buzz, as people interact on their way to another area of the office.

The Stair Experience

As an integral part of how you experience a space, stairs become an extension of the larger program. For example, stairs within a multi-story atrium space can facilitate visual and physical engagement with the product or brand that the architecture is meant to support. The concept of movement, integral to the identity of a progressive organization, becomes more real, because it is experienced. On a programmatic level, these stairs often serve as part of suspended platforms for displaying objects and as areas for crowd overflow when the space is hosting large assemblies. And, finally, for companies committed to principles of Active Design, prominent and attractive stairs are an incentive for employees to change their sedentary, desk centric ways.

HLW’s Connectivity Approach

Connectivity can be both literal and virtual, as any techie or gamer will tell you. Stairs can serve as a vertical connection point, connecting people along a main vertical artery in an office where direct adjacencies had not previously been possible. Such a flexible design element also often results in creating a conversation hub. Many of HLW’s projects include stairways with multi-media elements integrated into the structure, including LED screens with live feeds of the latest social media, advertising, and company communications. Stairs then become virtual conversation hubs, too. Employees feel more connected with each other and with their organization through values both seen and experienced.

Photography credit Ashok Sinha