SNAP: What is your secret to office design that also helps tell a brand’s story?
Verda Alexander: It’s not really a secret. It means getting to know your client. We’re like a nature writer who eats worms and sits in treetops to understand what it’s like to be a bird: We immerse ourselves in the client’s culture, and from that we create a narrative we use to guide our design development. All our recent work can be reverse-engineered from walls, lighting, furniture, and finishes back to the brand’s narrative.
Your new book, twelve new tales of workplace design, is not your first foray into publishing.
Primo Orpilla: Right. This is our fourth book. We were also mentioned in Po Bronson’s book on Silicon Valley, The Nudist on the Late Shift, in 1999, and from that time, I’ve thought our work would make an interesting book.
How did the book deal with frame publishers come about?
PO: I was at the Milan Furniture Fair a couple of years ago and ran into Robert Thiemann, the founder of Frame. He knew our work; he’d been watching us from Amsterdam. We both agreed that 26 years was a good perspective to look back from.
Name the biggest industry shift of the past 26 years.
PO: Companies wanting to make employees happy! When I started working, keeping staff happy was a low priority. Nobody cared how much natural light there was or whether you had a place to relax. I credit the tech world with bringing about a change in that mindset. Initially a lot of tech entrepreneurs were engineers and hackers hiring people like themselves. They believe in sharing office perks—the new generation wants everybody to share the windows.
What do you think of the trend in coworking spaces?
VA: If the forecasters are right—that we’re moving away from long-term employment toward a gig economy—it will make sense to design spaces that adapt to different uses. That’s a major thrust of O+A’s design now. Last April in Milan, we did an installation on the workplace of the future, and what we imagined looked more like a stage set than an office. It was the ultimate coworking space. We even played with wearable desks! Never mind meeting rooms in the middle of common areas: How about a desk that pops out of your vest?