AP+I Design is delivering an increasing number of designs meant to delight clients’ employees.
THE DAYS OF the cube farm are gone, gone, gone...
As architect for some of the most creative employers in the world, established California- based architectural, planning and interior design firm AP+I Design, Inc. has been able to surpass the old concepts – and limitations – of a workplace.
Since being founded in 1993, the company has focused on interior architecture for developers, building owners and property managers as well as end-user clients – with some big names on the list, such as Cisco, LinkedIn, Google and Symantec, to name a few.
Of course, the workplace has transformed, especially in Northern California where the tech industry has revolutionized the way employers treat their top resource: talent.
“It’s definitely changed dramatically since 1993,” principal and founder Carol Sandman says. “Back then, the companies we were working with were less sophisticated in terms of what they were looking to provide for their employees. It was a very different time. The work we were doing was not as highly designed, with few amenities provided as part of the design solution.”
Today’s talent pool requires an attentive employer, one that provides amenities and opportunities to spur creativity.
“Back in the early ‘90s, the work we did was, for the most part, very plain vanilla,” she says. “In the market we were in, there were a lot of startups that did not want to spend a lot of money. We still have startups who do not want to spend a lot of money, but they do want super creative space that provide many employee amenities.”
To answer that challenge, Sandman says her team looks for creative workarounds.
“We first understand what their budget is,” she says. “If they want to look scrappy but still want to attract and retain employees – a major issue in Silicon Valley – then we are looking at ways that we can source materials that can achieve the design concept in a less expensive way.”
A wall treatment with a high-end finish texture, for example, can sometimes be replicated with paint, or other less-pricey options, she says, and furniture and fixture manufacturers today are offering more design- forward options – at a broader range of pricepoints.
A Tech Start
AP+I Design has a long list of recognizable names it calls clients, but one defining moment for the company was its work with Google – once among those budget-conscious startups.
“The progression of projects at Google has really changed over the years, and I’m proud of the fact that we still work with them and have been since 2006,” Sandman says.
Then LinkedIn became a major client, with a three-building project that brought other, similar opportunities, such as a current 200,000-square-foot workspace for Symantec that’s heavy on design and employee amenities.
The LinkedIn project showcases the emphasis employers place on a corporate setting that provides beautiful and functional spaces for employees to work, gather and relax, such as LinkedIn Sunnyvale’s Starry, Starry Night Lounge, just off the employee cafeteria, which features twinkle light fixtures against a dark blue ceiling.
The amenities AP+I is designing range from sleeping pods, washer and dryer rooms and all manner of eateries and dining options to massage rooms and rooms for nursing mothers.
“I think the biggest factor in Silicon Valley today is designing an interior that attracts and retains employees – the bottom line – that they can work and be productive in.” Sandman says.
That extends to functionality – considering different ways to work.
“That’s one of the biggest things we’re seeing right now,” she says. “We provide alternate work settings – enclosed spaces, open spaces – a variety of spaces other than just a desk. Employees have all these other choices they can make in the workplace.”
Many Silicon Valley employers also are using benching systems, or even a less structured approach.
“There really are no cubicle walls at all when you use benching,” she says. “You’re very close to your neighbor. There is not a lot of privacy. That’s another reason why we need to provide a variety of workspaces. A person may have heads-down work they need to do, and they really need quiet, with no disruptions, so we need to provide other choices in the workplace where they can go work.”
Most employers, virtually all high-tech firms, are pushing for opportunities for cross pollination, Sandman says.
“Another thing companies are really looking for is chance encounters, something serendipitous,” she says. “We drive that by putting certain amenities on certain floors that force you to go to another floor, so you can meet other people and have a chance encounter and conversation that may spur you into a new thought or the next big thing.”
Google’s response to creating chance encounters was to put destination points in separate buildings. So, the company had AP+I incorporate a skate ramp in one building and a climbing wall in another. The company also has built slides from floor to floor for clients – or even a fireman’s pole – as well as a ball pit for adults.
Light as a Shared Amenity
Aside from eliminating cubicle walls that reached 5 or 6 feet, the corporate world also is abandoning the “office with a view” as an exclusive opportunity.
“There’s a lot more visibility in a space,” she says. “We’re trying to achieve things like having exterior windows and lighting available to everyone, versus when there were offices around a building perimeter that limited who got the light and the view.”
Even many venture capital firms – part of AP+I’s client core – have moved away from that concept.
Through the changes, Sandman says she and her team are allowed more opportunities to flex their creative visions. One aspect that hasn’t changed is a family atmosphere at the firm, now a 50-member team. Sandman fully credits her staff for the company’s ability to flourish.
“We have incredible people who make up the AP+I family,” she says. “They are wonderful employees who work really hard for their clients and for the company. Because we are able to retain employees who do a great job, we’ve got a happy group of people. We’ve always considered ourselves a family, and intend to keep it that way.”