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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The Dr. Strangelove–inspired conference table.

Courtesy Leslie Williamson

There are nods to cool design-y spaces, the kind that might appear in a “greatest hits of the second bubble” collection—such as a Skee-Ball machine that anchors a game-filled section of the same floor that houses the cafeteria, winkingly named Ate Ate Ate (a pun after the building’s 888 name)—but just when it seems that the office might start veering into the cute or too-referential, a story comes up. The Skee-Ball game, for instance, is based on one of the site’s earliest listings in which the host offered his Skee-Ball machine as a potential sleeping space. And once again, authenticity—even when it’s ironically inspired—prevails.

The fact that the two founders came from RISD is essential to the DNA of the company. It’s one thing for the leaders of a tech company that’s based in San Francisco to say that they care about design—but the ways in which design principles and, more importantly, methodologies are deeply embedded into every physical and conceptual aspect of the company come through. “We spend the majority of our lives at work,” Gebbia says, acknowledging the realities of working at the company, a reminder that part of  the reason the office is so welcoming is that Airbnb employees have to spend a tremendous amount of time at, if not their desks, then a desk. “Why wouldn’t it be as comfortable or as inspiring as your own home?” he asks, at one point referencing the Eames studio as a kind of spiritual inspiration.

A close-up of the crit room’s bookshelf, where cookbooks and design magazines share space with old-school tools and up-to-the-minute reference manuals. The facility’s three crit rooms are where visual material gets mocked up/cut out/produced. They feel like design school studios. 

Courtesy Carlos Chavarria

An old table, reclaimed from the RISD studios, anchors a seemingly random collective space—there are multiple ad hoc meetings taking place on this Wednesday morning—and a crit room is filled with the kind of Taschen books that are every architecture and design nerd’s dream, as well as scraps of paper visually expressing various Airbnb projects and principles pinned to the walls. Across the massive open-plan room, meanwhile, is another temporary space: two walls that angle toward each other to meet in the middle, each detailed with storyboard-style images that the founders are calling Snow White (after a project, whose details are being kept under wraps) that show, in images, just how on the one hand (wall) the guest experience and on the other hand (wall) the host experience can, in an ideal universe, go.

Drawings by the graphic designer Timothy Goodman line the walls of the Ate Ate Ate cafeteria. The company plans to exhibit work from a rotating cast of artists. 

Courtesy Carlos Chavarria

The office is an offline flagship for a company that exists entirely online, and that’s where the magic is. “We view this as our listing, as if this was our Airbnb,” Cushner says. She goes on to list the variety of spaces contained within this floor and a half: there’s open work space (the collection of long tables filled with Mac screens that are so necessary for any 2013 tech company), collaborative space (those conference rooms), quiet focused space (designed to look like a library that features a No Talking sign), social space (the Ate Ate Ate cafeteria, which hosts weekly happy hours), exhibition space (the gallery that surrounds the war room), and brasstacks business space (the round penultimate Dr. Strangelove room). Speaking of the entire project, Gebbia describes it as a metaphor. “We’re designing not just for a digital product, but for the transition from the digital product to the offline world,” he says. “How can we take something that we see on a screen every day and make that physical?” Wallpaper by wallpaper, air mattress by air mattress, conference room by conference room, they have.

The central atrium at Airbnb’s San Francisco headquarters, designed by Gensler. The conference rooms, visible Rear Window-style, were inspired by actual Airbnb listings.

Courtesy Shidume Lozada

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