Inspiring and innovative pioneer in workplace design
By being incredibly innovative, flexible and tailored for the particular needs and culture of the company and its employees, Google’s EMEA Engineering Hub in Zurich, Switzerland, is a great example of a modern workspace design, which cultivates an energized and inspiring work environment that is relaxed but focused, and buzzing with activities. At the time of completion in 2008, this office was one of the early examples of the future workplace design development. The EMEA Engineering Hub is located within the ‘Hurlimann Areal’ within easy walking distance of Zurich city centre. The site was originally a local brewery that has been regenerated into a vibrant mixed-use development of apartments, shops, offices and a spa hotel. The Google building is a contemporary seven storey shell and core office block offering 12’000 m2 floor area for up to 800 staff.
Zooglers collaborate in design development
Google is a company that constantly develops and grows, therefore the challenge for the architects was to set up a tailor-made design and construction process, which would meet the tight time and budget constraints whilst endorsing a very broad participatory design methodology. Based on their method statements, Evolution Design was selected in a competitive tender-interview process to become the lead architect and project manager for the interior design and fit-out of the new Google Engineering Hub. A key element in the design approach was that the Googlers in Zurich (fondly referred to as Zooglers) should participate in the design process to create their own local identity. Under the guidance of the Director of International Real Estate at Google in Mountain View, an interactive and transparent approach to the architectural process was implemented from the beginning. “A diverse team of local Zooglers were formed as the steering committee to represent the entire office. This committee reviewed, challenged and approved the design throughout the project. This unique method of engagement provided open collaboration, unique perspectives and ideas, and supplied a direct sense of ownership throughout the Zurich office,” explains architect Tanya Ruegg-Basheva from Evolution Design.
Diverse, yet harmonious work environment
To this end Evolution Design was neither given a specific brief nor a corporate identity manual and was explicitly asked not to research the organisation and design of other Google offices. The architects began with a rapid process of research and analysis to map out the opportunities and challenges posed by the building as well as the emotional and practical requirements of the Zooglers. The latter was achieved by conducting a survey of all the Zooglers, complemented by a series of workshops and interviews. This research, guided by a psychologist, extended beyond purely functional aspects, and provided information about the Zooglers personality types, representational systems, values and motivational factors.
Although the details of the survey outcomes remain confidential, the process revealed that the optimal working environment for Zooglers needed to be diverse and at the same time harmonious whilst making it a fun and an enjoyable place to work in. The survey also showed that while personal workspace needed to be functional and more neutral, communal areas had to offer strong visual and more aesthetically enjoyable and entertaining qualities to stimulate creativity, innovation and collaboration.
Communal areas over personal workspace
Based on the survey, concept options were developed and presented. The Zooglers decided early on that they preferred to reduce their personal net area of workspace in order to gain more communal and meeting areas. The working areas were therefore designed with a high degree of space efficiency. Additionally, they had to be able to accommodate frequent staff rotation and growth. On average a Googler moves twice a year within the building, consequently the office layout was designed for maximum adaptability so that all groups and departments can use any part of the office space.
“The office areas are organised along a central core and are a mixture of open-plan workspaces for 6-10 people and enclosed offices for 4-6 people. All office enclosures are constructed using a glass partition system, which maintains transparency and optimises daylight while reducing noise and achieving the required degree of privacy for working teams,” tells Tanya Ruegg-Basheva. “Each office floor is colour-coded and themed for easy orientation, for example on the blue floor large photographs and graphics on the themes of water and snow enhance the colour concept and make it an integral part of the interior design.”
Conference call from a ski-gondola
The Zoogler engineers tackle some of the most interesting challenges in computing today. As many of the teams in Zurich work together with Google teams all over the world, meeting rooms fitted with video-conferencing equipment are very important. Consequently there are a large number of small to medium-size meeting rooms situated throughout the office space. Apart from the standard meeting rooms, there are also many informal meeting areas, which have a more relaxed atmosphere for teams to have creative discussion around white-boards. Some of them also incorporate the theme of the floor, like the Igloo Satellite Cabins with penguins and the original ski-gondolas in a snowscape on the blue floor. The concept of the communal areas relates directly to the project research conclusions and wider research that indicates relaxation to be crucial to innovation and stimulating original thought. Work and play are not mutually exclusive, or as Google puts it “it is possible to code and pass the puck at the same time”. Based on this concept Evolution Design developed themed communal areas associated with sport and leisure, for example, an aquarium water lounge for relaxation and a games room to play billiards, table bartball and interactive video games. There is also an antiquethemed library and a massage spa to soothe any tight shoulder muscles. Most of these spaces also contain ‘micro kitchens’ offering the Zooglers a variety of drinks and snacks throughout the day. The diversity of the communal areas provides a great choice of distinctive emotional and visual experiences and activities. These ensure that there is a suitably relaxing or inspiring environment for the individual needs of the more than 50 nationalities represented in the Zurich office.
Rapid move within the Google city
The communal areas are intentionally dispersed throughout the building to encourage Zooglers to circulate throughout the seven floors to enhance communication between the different working groups and teams. In this way the building has evolved into a Google city with easy reference points for Zooglers and visitors to navigate the building. To allow speedy movement with fun between floors, “quick connections” comprising fire poles to slide down, link some of the communal areas with the floor above – making sure the Zooglers can reach their coffee that bit faster. And for the really hungry Zooglers, a steep and fast slide spirals down from the offices on the first floor directly into the centre of the Milliways cafeteria on the ground floor.
Food is very important to Google and the Zurich office is no exception. The Milliways cafeteria serves free breakfast, lunch and dinner and the chefs use only fresh, high quality ingredients and local produce to make healthy delicious bard. Coming together for eating is also a great opportunity for the Zooglers to meet and talk to people they don’t work directly with. To balance the good bard, a staffed gym offers yoga, Pilates and fitness classes and encourages the Zooglers to keep fit and healthy.
Separate space for Tech Talks
There are also a large number of technical talks at Google. Google ‘Tech Talks’ are designed to disseminate a wide spectrum of views on topics ranging from Current Affairs, Science and Engineering to Entertainment and the Arts. For these talks and many other events, conference facilities for up to 200 people have been designed on the ground floor.
The new Google EMEA Engineering Hub in Zurich is about functionality and flexibility in the personal workspace and choice and diversity in the community areas, creating an environment that holistically supports the Zooglers in their work and well-being. The research undertaken by the architects ensured their efforts were sharply focused on aspects of the environment that mattered most to the Zooglers in their working lives. The completed Google building is a true reflection of a forward-thinking company that was prepared to adopt innovative approaches proposed by the architectural team to determine the optimal design concept to nurture the talent and creativity of their Zurich employees.