Rooms with a View

The Airbnb Headquarters in San Francisco may be the ultimate reflection of both the brand, and the tech world’s new way of working.

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A green living wall anchors one end of the atrium, opposite the conference rooms.

Courtesy Carlos Chavarria

While it’s not a prerequisite for Airbnb employees to have seen the 1964 Stanley Kubrick movie Dr. Strangelove, which features as its visual centerpiece a famous—and famously anti-conflict—War Room, it does help the layout of the company’s conference room make a lot more sense. “It was one of those spaces where we had the chance to do a cylindrical room,” Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia says. “And when the concept was revealed, everyone’s face turned into a huge smile.” There were two other possibilities that Gensler floated to their clients, but nothing delighted the late-20s/early-30s employees who by now have spread out across every differently designed inch of this 72,000-square-foot space in a recently renovated building in San Francisco quite like the Strangelove look.

Design isn’t only about making all the employees smile, though; it’s about making things work. “What happens is that you put people at a level playing field,” Gebbia explains of the white circular table surrounded by comfortable gray chairs, an exactingly referential nod to the War Room’s aesthetic. “And then it’s less hierarchical and more collaborative.” He’s quick to say that the company was that way even before their meetings took place at circular tables, but of course it’s always better when the design not only reflects what was an existing value, but pushes new ideas into sharper play.

The look is one part new Internet bubble, one part San Francisco–handmade, one part newly iconic brand, and one part design school chic.

And that’s what the design of the new Airbnb office does: It represents the young and fast-growing company’s ethos of openness, collaboration, and constant enterprise, while at the same time encouraging even more happenstance, randomness, and play. The San Francisco office, which currently has more than 200 employees and adds on in the neighborhood of four programmers, developers, analysts, or designers a week, took over one and a half floors of 888 Brannan Street. The 96-year-old warehouse building in the city’s rapidly developing SoMa neighborhood had just undergone a renovation at the hands of Gensler, the global design firm that did both the entire shell and bones of the structure and significantly assisted Airbnb in the redesign of their office space. The look is one part new Internet bubble, one part San Francisco–handmade, one part newly iconic brand, and one part design school chic. Together, the parts are emblematic of not only the new economy but also a new spatial blurring: one in which features that used to be considered part of home—a kitchen, a library, a nerd cave, a place to nap—are now integrated into both the space and practice known as work.

The company’s founders, Joe Gebbia, Brian Chesky, and Nathan Blecharczyk, pose in the President’s Room.

Courtesy Shidume Lozada

There were two Gensler teams at work. One, led by Lisa Bottom, was embedded with Airbnb for four months, and worked closely with two of the founders—Gebbia and Brian Chesky, both Rhode Island School of Design graduates with serious eyes towards design (Gebbia’s official bio mentions his history as a designer for Chronicle Books and his dual degrees in graphic and industrial design; Chesky received his BFA in industrial design); the other was focused on the overall building. “It was sort of this poor old thing on the corner where they had painted over all the windows,” Bottom says, explaining that the curious cover-up of light (in a city so overrun by fog, it’s rare to see anyone purposely block it out) was because one of the building’s original tenants needed bright, artificial lights to make its rubies, diamonds, and cubic zirconia sparkle in its jewelry mart. Not only were there repurposable windows, but there were also skylights, something that the Gensler team wanted to work with.

The building also offered a massive central atrium reminiscent of Brad Cloepfil’s game-changing adaptive reuse project for Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Oregon—all seating possibilities and extruded frames that, even if abstractly, represent different Airbnb listings across the world, as well as walls of glass that offer peeks into the conference rooms that un-abstractly represent the company’s listings. “We wanted to use the atrium as a front door to the Airbnb space,” Bottom explains, a process that led to another major design move: the decision to use existing Airbnb listings, as the company calls the properties it features, to inspire the office’s aesthetic and visual organization.

Airbnb employees have the freedom to work wherever they want. The 72,000-square-foot facility contains few fixed workspaces. Here, employees hold an impromptu meeting in the Ate Ate Ate cafeteria (the name is a cheeky play on the address of the building, 888 Brannan Street).

Courtesy Carlos Chavarria

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Oct 18, 2014 01:58 am
 Posted by  CT W.

And that’s what the design of the new Airbnb office does: It represents the young and fast-growing company’s ethos of openness, collaboration, and constant enterprise, while at the same time encouraging even more happenstance, randomness, and play.

Really? Doesn't seem this way in this instance.

Aug 3, 2015 03:30 pm
 Posted by  oz

I just got burned by AirBNB! Here's my email to "the team":

Dear Priscilla,

Your intention is good and I thank you. A twenty-five dollar coupon, based on yet a future reservation with AirBNB doesn't even begin to deal with this.

Get this:

Lindsay wrote back saying to me her room was NOT available on those dates. HELLO !!!!!!



I am extremely upset and out $1,200 for this entire week.

This is NOT the last you will hear from me.

Why do you take money from anyone you have not fully certified?

Why do you take money BEFORE a host commits to renting?

Already on that basis there is still the risk to the consumer that the host 's place may not be as advertized, but add to that the stupid double wham of taking money from people before certification, and then taking money again before a host's agreement?

I hate your process, your policy, your arrogance and your utter lack of ethics. You screwed me twice, made me jump all your hoops, for what??? To tell me, oh Oscar, hey, you've lost your first request because we've not quite yet certified you without that video. And then you make me pay again to see if a host may or may not rent? AND THEN YOU GET THE DATES WRONG???????

I ought to sue AirBNB! What arrogance, for heavenssake!


---end of email---

This company is run by immature, money-hungry juveniles who have a huge overhead to cover each month in expensive San Francisco.

You should NOT take money from anyone you have not first fully certified. And you should NOT take any money before a host has agreed to rent their space on the dates advertized. Once those two things exist, a ceretified member and a host who agrees to price and dates, THEN money should come into it. Not the other way around, for heavenssake!

You have ruined my trip next week to Vancouver. All my money is tied up with this now for this whole week.

Nov 18, 2015 06:14 pm
 Posted by  Ken B.

Yeah, I'm another pissed off AirBNB 'guest'... feedback to them did not happen due to my son getting the invitation after our September stay, as he did the (London) booking...even if my post-stay comments had reached them, they would probably have been cut, as I concluded that the host should be de-listed until substantial changes were made.
Why? Dirty bathroom, usually no toilet paper, bedroom with lighting and storage less than advertised, no change of linen in over 2 weeks stay, dangerous cupboard corner over washing machine, no sink-plug in kitchen ('we just use a running tap to wash-up') - and the king hit: inoperable stove-top in the shared kitchen. For 48GB pounds per day, why would you book again?
AirBNB erroneously assumes that all problems can be sorted out between host and guests. Not so - and ours was hardly ever around... he runs several AirBNB shack-ups. And you cannot contact the AirBNB operation with serious complaints... it's all 'we'll ask the questions, and no emails please...'

Jan 3, 2016 11:34 pm
 Posted by  Knotshure

This company is shit!
I was approved for a 2 week stay, paid for a two week stay and when the host found a renter willing to pay more money to rent her space she messaged me and told me that she had a "special" rate she wanted to extend to me, because I was going to be adding an additional week to my stay. However, in order for her to do that i would have to cancel my reservation so she could send the new "better" rate to me. Never having used Airbnb before and not knowing any better, I complied. LOL I guess by "better" rate she meant, SHE was going to get a better rate from someone else, because the next message i received from her said her place was no longer available for my arrival date, but it would be available 5 days later if is still wanted to stay.... Amazing!
Funny there's no customer service number listed anywhere on the Airbnb website. I did find a number on google though, 415-800-5959... 24/7 customer service. Yep they'e there, but they're unable to provide anything, but some fluff to blow up your ass."They want me to be happy and "have a $25 credit" to make the fact that I am days away from my trip, I've spent thousands of dollars on airline ticks alone. Not to mention the more than $1400 I PREPAID to Airbnb, so I would have a place to stay when I got off the plane, but my Airbnb host just fucked me off, so she could make more money on someone else. Yep $25 makes it all better. Hey, maybe I'll sleep outside of the hospital my daughter is delivering my first grandchild at and use my "feel better we fucked you over money " to hail a cab to the nearest shelter!
I love the censorship of the site too, you can't leave a review if you don't stay .. Its all sunshine, babies and bullshit on the surface, because there's no way for the people that get fucked off, to leave a comment. Oh wait , that's not true , Robert G. is putting a ticket for me...yeah that helps, considering he doesn't even know where the ticket goes within the co. after it leaves him? WTF

Jan 16, 2016 04:23 am
 Posted by  Stuart Humphreys

From my own experience having been a guest in a couple of AirBnB destinations and with a career in hospitality management as well as reading some of these comments, it is clear that AirBnB needs a Quality Assurance System and initiative which I have written to the CEO Brian Chesky and offered to custom develop for them.

I will go to see him / the company at this splendid looking HQ next month when I return home in February (I live near San Francisco) as I had no reply yet to my emails.

I will persevere as it is clear that this is a great concept and the sharing economy is a great new development in the accommodation market. However, customers want to have some reliable way to pre-judge the quality of the experience they will have and at the moment the platform does not provide that but we can develop that with them.

Stuart Humphreys

Jan 29, 2016 01:27 am
 Posted by  peter c.

I am also pissed at Airbnb - totally irresponsible organization.

They do not screen Host's well enough - I represent homeowners that rented to tenants- tenants turned around and did Airbnb with the owners permission- huge liability issue, damage potential .

Why don'y they check for proof of ownership ? or at the very least proof of permission to Host from property owner.

Airbnb is a bad organization - great idea - but poorly executed.........

Jan 29, 2016 01:28 am
 Posted by  peter c.

without owners permission.......that is

Feb 1, 2016 08:39 am
 Posted by  Leonard Bruce

I rented an apartment through Airbnb, the description and details of which were complete lies. It was a disgusting slum place and appeared to be suitable only for `working girls'. After two weeks Airbnb came up with a `Highly reccommended apartment'. Cosy,home from home. Which proved to be even worse than the first place. Prior to payment to Airbnb and confirmation of booking, no cotact with `hosts' permitted nor pre-viewing allowed. No refunds and no compensation for a totally destroyed month long Christmas holiday.

Feb 2, 2016 06:15 pm
 Posted by  Xander

Adele K,

Wow! Summarily dismissing client due to the fact that I reported scams/unstable host in different cities globally in alliance with your approval. There were a littany of inaccuracies and misinformation on public as you stated "uncovered pursuant online public records “ Google and other sites clear it up as of this Friday 1/29/16 with my NYC, California attorney's for it was incorrect and that’s what you all deciphered from and ran with this as Airb&b agents under the guise of case managers, supervisors of this growing brand!

My merit or character is not determined by misinformation or due to my salient complaints based on actual facts in my travels globally. Therefore, in full disclosure providing to you letters that a phone call could have cleared up or you could have done a background check instead of discriminating through online misinformation that were part of a longtime class action lawsuit against another batch of rotten apples that required appeal + FBI.

Yes, I had forensic accountants look into your payment practices and will not be making any payments in the future as you do not provide accounting for customers. However, mediocrity exist in your organization. My shining light into your shady practices is obviously uncomfortable. Therefore, negligence exist as thousands of individuals globally are collecting passive incomes on spaces that are not properly vetted due to unstable host & locations.

Brian Chesky/Partners what they do when NYTimes or Washington Post launches an investigation or other TV outlets as other customers like myself globally can vent their stories and myself on “discrimination due to online misinformation" as this missive will be disclosed to all and sundry to expose your practices as legally putting you & CEO + air&b on notice as will provide the following to attorneys and proceed accordingly as a class action suit will bring down that war-room mentality unless compensated for strife & defamatory research.

Alex D'Andrea

May 31, 2016 04:31 pm
 Posted by  Christopher M.

Not a reflection of the company at all. Only of Capitalism and how Airbnb stole the opportunity to make positive changes in how things are done here.
Airbnb is a despicable organization that only cares about cash, and nothing more.
If you do not agree, try to call them. Try to talk to anyone that can make any significant change in your experience. You will get nothing. They will give nothing. Their protections are bullshit. Their guarantees are all lies, just read the TERMS in their ridiculous 33 page entirety.
We have been fooled and have made them so super rich they can afford a ridiculous office in San Francisco.

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