Offices

June 2 2008



At the end of last year we filled you in briefly on the evolution of office design from autonomous, uninspiring closed spaces to the ubiquitous cube and finally the latest incarnation of creative, motivational and dynamic workable environments.  And now we’re back to tell you about one of the latest projects from the architecture and design firm Camenzind Evolution: Google Zurich.

And what is truly remarkable about this project is that Carmenzind Evolution delivered exactly what Google desired, while not exceeding the costs of many conventional interior office fit-outs.  The design team began by working closely with Google through the pre-design process by interviewing all 350 employees with the intention of incorporating their ideas into a new workspace.  Because many companies spend excessive amounts on furniture and finishes that have nothing to do with how the employees work and interact within the space, the final design resulted in elements from which the so-called ‘Zooglers’ would benefit most.



Stefan Camenzind, the design firm’s founding partner, reveals the essential considerations that led to the innovative creation for the new office space in Zurich: staff knows better than a management committee what works best based on personality types; flexibility of space allows employees take ownership and feel like they belong; communal areas can and should be outlandish and inspiring; bold, clean colour will successfully change the character of the room; cash is always well-spent on an extraordinary coffee machine rather than on soda or junk food; and finally, it’s OK and even recommended to splurge on a few signature items rather than going all out on carpet, furniture and chairs, all of which can amount to spending too much on the stuff no one notices anyway.



Keeping all that in mind, let’s dissect Google’s new EMEA Engineering Hub located within walking distance of Zurich city centre in the ‘Hurlimann Areal.’  The building was originally a brewery that has been converted in to a vibrant mixed-use development of residential and commercial spaces, including shops and a spa hotel. The Google offices comprise seven storeys of 12,000 square metres of floor space for up to 800 employees.

A diverse team of Zooglers was assembled and represented the entire staff by approving and rejecting nearly every aspect of the interior fit-out.  Carmenzind Evolution was never given a specific design brief, but instead followed the directions and recommendations given by the steering committee.  Another unique element included in the design process was the involvement of a psychologist who administered a survey to each employee identifying both emotional and practical requirement of the Zooglers.



The final design strategy involved the creation of highly functional, yet somewhat basic individual workspace surrounded by proportionally larger, highly stimulating communal areas and meeting spaces.  Open-plan workspaces were created for 8-10 employees, whilst glass-partitioned offices were built for smaller work teams allowing for both transparency and light from the outside, as well as creating the required degree of privacy from within.  And because the average Google worker moves workstations twice a year, each area has to be exceedingly flexibly and adaptable. 

Every floor is individually themed and colour-coded allowing for effortless orientation.  The fifth floor, the history floor, was designed to resemble an old library parlor.  The meeting room has large overstuffed sofas and chairs, dark, velvet curtains, a fireplace and a chandelier.  The fourth floor is the green floor — the environment floor.  The communal spaces have large, cocoon-like meeting areas amidst a forest of tree trunks.  Zooglers can slide down a pole from the floor above into the space.  And the third floor’s theme is Switzerland.  The floors have carpets that look like snow, and ski gondolas have been converted into meeting spaces.  Igloo Satellite Cabins allow work teams to close themselves off to their surroundings and attend videoconferences with peers around the world. 



Other noteworthy communal areas include an aquarium water lounge where workers can chill out in foam-brick-filled bathtubs; a massage spa and a games room to play billiards, foosball and other video games; the Milliways cafeteria accessible via a large spiral slide where chefs use local produce to offer fresh meals; and a fitness studio offering group yoga and Pilates classes.  And as each communal area is dispersed throughout the seven floors, Zooglers are encouraged to circulate and explore thereby increasing their interaction and communication with co-workers from every department. 

We have to admit we’re huge fans of socially-inclusive design processes — and the design team at Carmenzind Evolution were dedicated to insuring the wants and needs of each Google employee in Zurich were met — and usually even exceeded.  Google, of course, is a highly innovative and effervescent company where their new relaxed work environment will undoubtedly inspire and motivate Zooglers to keep the company moving forward while conceiving provoking initiatives. By Andrew J Wiener.