Last month, Airbnb commissioned four design practices to create installations in Trafalgar Square. Earlier this year, we visited the tech company’s offices in Silicon Valley
Having revolutionised the way people share their spaces, the founders of online holiday rental website Airbnb decided to rethink the office space.
Unusually for Silicon Valley tech start-ups, the company’s co-founders both studied design – Joe Gebbia did graphic design and industrial design and Brian Chesky did industrial design. Chesky says that, at the Rhode Island School of Design, their professors often challenged students to get design into the boardroom, but that he instead wondered, “what if design ran the boardroom?”
He pursued the answer to that question at their new San Francisco headquarters, 888 Brannan, in a slightly shabby area of the city – no doubt soon to feel the brush of regeneration.
Working with Gensler, Airbnb refurbished a 72,000 sq ft former factory, building upon, yet moving away from, now clichéd examples of creative office spaces made famous by such entities as Google – although there are still ping pong tables.
“Making connections between people and spaces is at the core of what Airbnb does,” Gebbia says. “The office needed to reflect that.” This desire to connect their staff, Chesky’s intuition that employees would be happier with a variety of working spaces – quiet areas, meeting rooms, maker spaces and more typical desk spaces – and the duo’s design education, drove the refurbishment process.
Perhaps the cleverest idea is the most obvious. Instead of fitting out meeting rooms with photographs of listings from the Airbnb site, they have replicated whole rooms. Employees can choose to meet in a replica of the founders’ original living room, in the dining room of a Parisian flat or the living room from a pad in Reykjavik.
Food, too, is important to the company. “Food connects people,” Gebbia says. At the office, a vast dining area doubles as a space for office-wide meetings, events or evening drinks. Scattered throughout the office are kitchens that replicate kitchens in the site’s listing.
But Airbnb has not completely escaped tech-money silliness – their boardroom is a replica of the roundtable, black space from Dr Stranglove. Apparently someone presented a picture of the boardroom from the movie during a meeting and they all decided that they must have it.