‘A campus in the woods,’ with a series of building complexes nestled in a verdant vernacular, was the original vision for the 500-acre Redmond Microsoft headquarters. As the company and campus grew, woods gave way to buildings and cars while numerous corporate headquarters have flourished throughout the Seattle metropolitan area competing for specialized workforce. The tech giant is steady in its leadership to attract talent swapping out the car-centric nature of the original buildings with a pedestrian and bike-friendly universal design and seasonally flexible and safe workplace informing as well as reflecting the times.
Responding to evolving post-pandemic workplace strategies and leveraging stewardship of the modern eco-friendly campus, outdoor spaces ascended to the forefront of a design – as a new frontier for differentiation of the quality of corporate lifestyle. Transforming exterior spaces as a series of interconnected opportunities for meetings engenders what Microsoft calls team-based space – a welcome alternative to virtual meetings.
A traditional Microsoft sub-campus where employees work, dine, and entertain together, the complex and the limits of the renovation is at once confined to its own distinct district while simultaneously representing an overall shift in the approach to campus life. Balancing this juxtaposition, the spatial constraints of the largely enclosed plaza were paired with an open-ended objective to propose a spectrum of ideas. The expectation was based in the fulfillment of tangible programs as well as the aspiration to invent an unexpected, a place that would surpass the physical constraints of the site while achieving an intangible goal – creating a signature campus destination and encourage employees to safely work outdoors. Accessible ‘mobile office assistants’ with cleaning supplies and visual cues inform about safe working protocols.
Key considerations included employees’ engagement and safety, scale of space, seasonal usability and weather protection, spatial legibility as well as capacity for connections and innovation. Critical to the process was robust idea generation, grounded in quantifiable set of criteria offering a productive outdoor workplace and a platform for large corporate events while feeling intimate for daily use where people benefit creatively and feel safe.
An overall courtyard concept emerged from the process, to create a new epicenter within the existing space, an envelope to hold three essential elements: an elevated plaza as an extension of indoor space, a verdant grove, and glowing lanterns as outdoor rooms interspersed within courtyard. The design team worked fluidly between disciplines alongside the Microsoft workplace strategists, to fully embrace ‘outdoor rooms’, small team-based meeting ‘Pods’ for year-round use.
The ‘jewel box’ bound by a perimeter concrete seat wall, forms a datum for the 18” elevated plinth. Paved with woven bands of linear concrete pavers, the plinth forms the basis of the design. The plinth creates two outdoors rooms, defined by the 120’ linear glass canopy visually connecting adjacent office buildings and delineating the space while remaining porous. The east side of the plinth relates to the café, providing a variety of places to eat and meet. The reclining seat edge runs the length of the square, taking advantage of the 18” elevation change. The larger, west side of the plinth holds the three ‘pods.’ Elevations are choreographed to separate ‘pods’ creating private moments through subtle depressions. The largest, central ‘pod’ embraces the social setting, sitting atop the plinth, amongst a ping pong table, chin-up bars, and corn hole games, opening fully to the plaza with an operable, kinetic door.
The new plaza is built entirely over an existing parking structure and the reconstruction was based on exposing and strengthening the roof slab. Impressively, the original garage structure was built for significant loads, dreaming the new design inclusive of architecture and vegetation. The design process was exacting the built elements and vegetation viable of the new vision – reducing waste, reusing, and adapting infrastructure, and retaining significant trees.
Existing planters were modified and reconstructed where appropriate to improve campus circulation. Existing concrete pavers and original pedestals were stored and reused, responding to the original pattern and ground plane. Significant trees were assessed across the entire 5-acre complex. PLACE approached the planting design holistically – proposing an updated planting palette to complement and edit campus vernacular and enhancing vegetation. New trees were selected for maturity and climate adaptation contributing to immediate coverage and a sense of permanence. Consistency of material, color, vegetation, and form between built and natural environments reflects the unified design approach and an iconic sense of place.
Architecture offices involved in the design: Bora Architects.
Project location: 15571 NE 31st street, REDMOND, WA 98052
Design year: 2017
Year Built: 2018