Square Office red

National Architecture Week: Building the World’s Most Collaborative Company

By Gregory Mottola, FAIA, for National Architecture Week: Reinvention #ArchWeek15

Transformation can relate to many things architects do—transforming a site, an organization, and old into new. Occasionally, transformation can take something that once seemed unloved and forgotten, and reveal what is special about it, turning it into an asset, a virtue. This post relates to such a story…

Over the last three years, my colleagues at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and I have enjoyed a continued collaboration with Square, Inc.—a rapidly growing technology company that aims to help small businesses and their customers make commerce easy. They reached out to us after recognizing the need for a much larger space to accommodate their projected growth over the next several years. We designed their new San Francisco headquarters last year and continue to work with them as their business grows.

When the company approached us, we were immediately interested in the project. They wanted to retain their nimble, start-up culture of innovation and collaboration while relocating to a (somewhat unremarkable) building on Mid-Market—a largely windowless, former Bank of America data center. The building, what some speculated was a covert government facility, was originally designed by SOM and constructed in the 1970s. Intended for ‘back office’ support, the building did its best to be something you never paid much attention to.

BCJ_Square Exterior

When we had our first meeting with Jack Dorsey, Founder of Square and Twitter, he simply stated that he wanted to build the world’s most collaborative company and the space should be designed with that in mind—quite a design brief! As a startup, their first office was actually located in Jack’s loft apartment; they then moved to a great space in the San Francisco Chronicle building, which helped establish their open, flexible, and collaborative culture. After reaching maximum capacity there, they set their eyes on the Bank of American data center, selecting the building because of its central location and large floor plates, something that is in short supply in the city.

Square Interior Before

In designing their space, we had to think about how to transform the dismal, windowless data center into a vibrant workplace—attempting to retain their start-up company culture of collaboration and flexibility, but on a new scale of a full city block. Our design research led us to think about the space not in terms of office buildings, but rather as an exercise in urban planning. We looked at some of the great precedents in urban design—the historic market street in Dubrovnik, Croatia, for example, as well as cities such as Philadelphia and Savannah. With the mindset of a city planner, we developed a grand central boulevard where collaborative space and amenities would be located to draw people together in a comprehensible way. We anchored the boulevard with program elements such as a library, coffee shop, art gallery, and boardroom.

Square library

The resulting workplace has been wildly successful for Square, as it reflects their simple, yet effective core value—‘make commerce easy.’ Our design also reflects the company’s brand, with crisp, clean, and bright interiors accomplished on a modest start-up budget. Their goals and mission inspired our work and have led to us continuing our relationship with Square as they contemplate further growth within the building. And while they transform as a company, there is a sense of permanence in this current space.

As Jack has said, “This is our building [and] I can’t imagine us moving from here as long as I’m alive.”

Square Office red