The Tech Identity

Learn more about how our corporate clients use architecture as a medium to integrate culture and identity into the workplace.

adobe map-01
Post_03 Existing central atrium space at 601
May 16, 2013

The Tech Identity

By William Turner, AIA

Architecture is the medium for the integration of space, culture and identity for our corporate clients. Generally, large tech corporations seek consistency amongst their office space to reflect a common identity amongst their global holdings. Accommodating growth, often fueled by mergers and acquisitions, heightens the importance of reinforcing the company’s identity when space is quickly needed. When it comes to culture, it is important to maintain the culture of the acquired company, but ultimately they need to become part of the cohesive whole. It is also true that every geographic location—and every building—has its own personality. The key in developing a strong corporate identity is to create a strategy that’s loose but cohesive to adapt to these dynamics while cradled by the bricks and mortar of the architecture.

VDTA is currently working on the San Francisco campus for Adobe Systems.  Adobe, headquartered 50 miles south in San Jose, established its San Francisco presence when it acquired Macromedia at the end of 2005. Macromedia occupied the historic Baker & Hamilton Building at 601 Townsend Street and the newer 625 Townsend Street next door. Recently, Adobe leased additional space at 410 Townsend Street two blocks away to meet the needs of its growing workforce.


How do you create a cohesive identity for a campus in an urban setting with non-contiguous buildings?

It’s a five-minute walk between 410 and 601 that runs adjacent to Caltrain’s 4th and King terminus, under the 6th Street on ramp to 280 and passes by the occasional homeless encampment.

Embedded in this project is a larger design question for the future of urban campuses. One way we aim to address the challenges of campus connectivity is to distribute amenity spaces throughout the campus and specifically within 410 Townsend that will have a strong presence. We want 410 to become a destination into its own right, so that Adobe employees who work in the other buildings will be drawn to use this space. The building’s ‘Flex Space’ will include a dry bar and be able to accommodate any number of uses including an art gallery, all-hands meeting space, or a place to hold caffeine-fueled hack-a-thons. There may be no way to connect the three San Francisco locations physically, but we can bridge them socially by distributing employee resources between all three buildings.


The nature of the building should always inform the design.

While investigating 601 we scoured the building to understand its essence and energy of how people move through the space, how they work and where they congregate. The building has the bones of a classic SOMA brick and timber building. Designed by Sutton & Weeks and constructed in 1905, the Baker & Hamilton building was originally the home of the Pacific Hardware and Steel Company and helped the city rebuild from the great earthquake and fire of 1906. The historic lobby off of Seventh Street is an impromptu game space, historic finishes intact, which makes it a popular retreat to blow off steam. A dynamic hub of the San Francisco campus, known as the Town Hall, is located in the central atrium.  Current design alternatives will further invigorate the Town Hall by vertically integrating all of the floors into the dynamic epicenter of collaboration, creativity and inspiration.


The Adobe Identity

We’ve been working with Adobe for the past three years on a variety of projects, so we’ve had the ability to really get to know how they work. We developed the company’s Global Tool Kit, a graphical “how-to” guide for implementing collaborative space in their buildings. Whenever Adobe acquires a new location, or performs a renovation, we draw on this kit of parts to implement different meeting rooms, huddle spaces, and other collaborative areas that go beyond the workstations. We completed the global toolkit for Adobe only a year and a half ago, but it is continually evolving, so we’ve recently begun refining it to make it even richer with a next generation update.


Infusing the local culture into our designs.

From office to office, the work environments are never exactly the same. Even the differences between San Francisco and San Jose are notable. The people who work in Adobe’s San Francisco campus have a strong bicycle culture so we have to make sure their bikes are well cared for—and secure. The site has an autonomous character, befitting the independent culture the City is well known for and this site is no different. The corner where the former employees of Typekit reside—Adobe acquired the firm in 2011—has its own distinct character to better associate with the values that Typekit brings to Adobe.

Whether we’re working with a historic brick and timber building like 601 Townsend, or a more contemporary high rise tower, we’re always trying to keep the identity and rawness of the space while adding the Adobe polish and refinement. We want the interiors to say, this is Adobe—but also whether this is Adobe in San Francisco, or Adobe in Tokyo. It’s about balancing uniformity,  flexibility, culture and regional identity.