In San Francisco, the latest tech office has the cultural prominence a lavish restaurant or fancy boutique would elsewhere. As the battle to entice technical talent continues, designers strive to outdo the competition with their imaginative environments. One of the latest entries is the Bloomberg Tech Hub, designed by the San Francisco'based firm IwamotoScott. The 20,000-square-foot space houses the financial-technology and media company's West Coast research-and-development and venture-capital groups, envisioned for a staff of 100. The design eschews the DIY hacker vibe that is common to many other tech offices for pure architectural drama, incorporating a faceted tank of stingrays and a sculpted wood screen, as well as refined details like door handles wrapped in black leather.
The architects had good bones to work with. The Bloomberg office occupies the 22nd and 23rd floors of one of the handsomest buildings in San Francisco, the Pacific Telephone Building, in the South of Market neighborhood. Built in 1925, the ornate Art Deco structure was designed by notable local architect Timothy Pflueger with an L-shaped floor plan that is optimized for daylighting and views rather than space.
It was an easy decision to expose the building’s industrial shell of concrete and brick on the inside. The design team inserted materials with their own strong qualities—blackened steel, glass, and white oak—and was careful to hide infrastructure. “Our design is spatial rather than tectonic,” says principal Lisa Iwamoto, contrasting the firm’s approach to an architectural philosophy that calls for exposing all the nuts and bolts.
“We have a steel volume that is floating in the air,” she points out, referring to what the design team dubbed the Light Volume, a sculptural installation on the 22nd-floor ceiling comprising a hollow multifaceted structure that frames a 12-foot-wide opening between the two floors. The original plan called for an open stair in that spot between the two floors, but when the building’s existing stair was deemed sufficient, the architects created a volume lined with LCD screens that display dynamic lines of light in abstract patterns, reflecting real-time market activity. It is suspended above a diamond-shaped tank inhabited by two stingrays. Rising up on the floor above, the non-orthogonal form provides a railing-cum-counter, allowing people to work and peer down at Vladimir and Beyoncé swimming silently below.
Back on the 22nd floor, the blackened-steel-plate Light Volume is counterposed with fine-grained, rift-sawn white oak, used to create a dramatic ceiling screen that defines the café area and staff pantry. The architects wanted to create a contemporary pattern that references the building’s elaborate ornamentation, the chevron lattice of glazed ceramic tile in particular, which partially screens the windows on that level. The wood ceiling screen’s precise angles clearly originated on a computer, each of its 42 beams custom-milled with a slightly different taper. The pantry below is outfitted with such custom features as an entire island devoted to the requisite industrial-quality espresso machine and illuminated drawers that showcase a vast array of snacks, such as organic peanut-butter cups and chia-seed bars, as prominently as if in a gourmet supermarket.
Bloomberg was an early champion of the open-plan office, and the Tech Hub is very au courant with its variety of work areas, including benching systems with adjustable-height desks, group tables, and acoustic-felt-lined booths. A large “quiet room” on the upper level has a distinctly residential ambience, with upholstered sofas and chairs. Decorated with molecular models and other scientific curiosities, this living room is about as close as this office gets to hipster chic.
The communal areas are supplemented with glassed-in conference rooms of different sizes. Their white millwork is a nod to Bloomberg’s other offices, which emphasize sleek white finishes. Along one corridor, panels of glass back-painted white—the fancy version of whiteboards—are available for impromptu brainstorming. Interestingly, the circulation routes are carpeted, while work areas have a hard cementitious coating: the architects decided to do this because they wanted to minimize the clatter of people walking through the open office. The carefully considered lighting deserves a particular shout-out and includes such attention-grabbing fixtures as the Vibia Wireflow, Stickbulb Sky Bang, and a trio of Flos Aim pendants.
Unlike most tech offices—and other Bloomberg offices, for that matter—the San Francisco Tech Hub largely forgoes bright colors in favor of sober neutrals. Even sandy-hued Vladimir and Beyoncé don’t deviate from this rigorous palette. “This is a sophisticated space for a sophisticated client,” says Iwamoto.
Client/Owner: Bloomberg L.P.
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Mechanical engineers: Amit Wadwha & Associates
Acoustical: Charles M. Salter Associates
General contractor: Novo Construction
20,000 square feet
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Paints and stains: Custom blackened steel finish
Wall coverings: FilzFelt custom installation at booths
Paneling: custom White Oak veneer
Solid surfacing: Corian (meeting room millwaork)
Carpet: Tredford, Desso
Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Fixed seating: Custom built-in fabricated by Plant Architectural Woodwork
Feature Pendant Lights: