Imagine being sat down and asked to design a building that promotes collaboration, innovation, and still has to look good a hundred years from now. That is the challenge Steve Jobs set architecture firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson in the late 90s when they embarked on designing Pixar’s now world renowned headquarters in Emeryville, which opened in 2000.
The biggest feature of the campus is undoubtedly the huge atrium employees must go through to get into the building and through to other departments. Rather than using managerial force to get people to collaborate, Jobs insisted on this design to promote unplanned collisions that would lead to collaboration and creativity. According to his biography, at one point Jobs considered only making toilets available via the atrium in order to force every department of the workforce to go through it multiple times a day. However, health and safety regulations insisted on having toilets on every level. A compromise for Jobs, but perhaps a relief for many employees.
“The atrium initially might seem like a waste of space…” says Brad Bird, director of “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”. “But Steve realised that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.”
In a quote from Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson, the Apple co-founder believed that:
“If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So when we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”
The Pixar design was incredibly cutting-edge when they embarked on the project. Until then no working environments offered features like a 600 seat open air amphitheatre, an Olympic sized swimming pool, a Soccer field, hidden places to walk and eat lunch, or an organic garden of fruit and vegetables used by the company’s chefs.
Jobs did away with the oversaturated cubicle farms of the late 90s, opting instead to let each employee have an office they could make their own. Ordinarily personalising a workspace meant decorating a desk with photos of one’s family, or perhaps bringing along your favourite mug from home. At Pixar, however, each office is specifically designed to the personal taste of each employee. From Tiki rooms, to a downed aircraft complete with fake tree lianas, each workspace is intended to make the person feel comfortable enough to be creative.
These spaces go beyond being just a place for work. Rather, they’re an extension of someone’s personality and double up as a living environment too as life at Pixar isn’t limited to 9-5 Monday to Friday. The campus is open 24 hours a day, allowing employees to work to their own schedules.
Different working arrangements suit difference disciplines, and while a space like Pixar’s might not suit IBM or GE, it’s an imperative part of the creative process for the most successful animation studio since Disney. With their 26 Oscars to show for it, it’s clear the design of this revolutionary campus has been a success.
“Steve’s theory worked from day one,” says John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief executive officer. “…I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”