SkB is a full service architecture and interior design firm located in Seattle, Washington, which considers itself as a "boutique design firm“. Sounds modest and cosy. But SkB Architects developed the Microsoft Design Language for Place, which is essentially a "living" guide for the design of all Microsoft facilities worldwide, which means: 45.9 million square feet spanning over 779 global sites.
Apart from Microsoft: Can you name the two or three workplace-projects you are especially proud of and why is it?
Shannon Gaffney: We're especially proud of how KEXP turned out. 90.3 KEXP FM is an independent radio station with fans all over the world and whose mantra is "connecting people through music".
Our goal as architects and designers was to see that connection translated and amplified through physical space. Now, they not only connect with people over the airwaves, but in person via a public gathering space where people can see the DJs play live. The space also connects at the community level by physically linking the Lower Queen Anne neighbourhood with Seattle Center in downtown Seattle. We felt this was a perfect expression of their ambitions to be not just a radio station but a worldwide community music hub. In 2017, when Soundgarden front man and Seattle-native, Chris Cornell, passed away KEXP was the place where the community came together to grieve and recognize his loss. To have the greater community use the space in such a way was truly an honour as an architect and designer.
The global management consultancy, Boston Consulting Group, is another one we're proud of. They approached us to design their new Seattle office and the resulting space, with stunning views of Puget Sound in Seattle, feels almost more like a boutique hotel lobby than it does an office.
No one really wants their office to feel like an office do they? Employees, mostly consultants who spend 90 percent of their time at client offices, are free to use almost any space in the office; a few desks are assigned for those needing privacy. In response to the off-site nature of their employees’ work, the space is designed with only one workstation for every two employees. It has been so popular with employees that many are now coming in on their non-client days instead of working from home or at a coffee shop. That's a great sign we've done our job.
It also has a hidden "speakeasy" behind some kitchen casework. Speakeasies were popular here in the US in the 1920s when alcohol was outlawed. People set up hidden bars in the most unusual places. So that is a fun element for BCG's office to have.
Shannon, could you give me an insight to your personal work? Where do you work? How does your personal workplace looks like?
Shannon Gaffney: I work where it feels right, and that locale changes weekly or monthly. I tend not to want to be strapped to one place. I'm an odd bird in that when working from home at the kitchen table or in our home studio, I have the news going on TV and music playing while I work. A big work table with lots of cool archaic tools like pens, pencils, markers are always strewn about.
And what about the work places of Your colleagues? Is it mandatory for them to work from the office?
Shannon Gaffney: People in our office don't have to always be in the office, but because of heavy graphic software needs, they can get tethered to our studio. We don't have an explicit policy about where work happens...just use common sense, be smart about it, and like Mom, "just let us know where you are"!
How many hours a day do you consider yourself as really being productive? In Europe, especially in Germany, we have two different attitudes: The „heroic“ never stopping through-the-night-riders. (And their civil cousins, the sitting-in-the-office-just-to-be-seen fraction.) And the well structured work-life balancers. Where do you stand?
Shannon Gaffney: I work where it feels right, and that locale changes weekly or monthly. I tend not to want to be strapped to one place. I'm an odd bird in that when working from home at the kitchen table or in our home studio, I have the news going on, TV and music playing while I work. A big work table with lots of cool archaic tools like pens, pencils, markers are always strewn about. People in our office don't have to always be in the office, but because of heavy graphic software needs, they can get tethered to our studio. We don't have an explicit policy about where work happens...just use common sense, be smart about it, and like Mom, "just let us know where you are"!
Productive? Somedays I feel I got little accomplished and good things happened and other days I work morning to night. But let's define or redefine "productive". I will leave when I feel like I can or if I have an appointment with friends or clients. I typically get home and my husband, who – as You know – happens to be my partner and I do the typical home thing, but also wax on about ideas, deadlines, strategies.
And when Do I start? At night, early mornings, in the shower, everywhere at anytime can can involve sketching, doodling, writing, typing, reading, on and on.
Shannon, thank you very much, it was a pleasure talking to you.
Shannon Gaffney: You´re welcome, Jonas, the pleasure was all mine.
In the first part of our conversation with Shannon Gaffney, Co-Founder of SKB Architects, she talks about their work for Microsoft , her approach to the term “productivity“ and why she can not stand it anymore that people connects with Seattle mostly salmon and Kurt Cobain.