Choose Your Own Adventure: Slack’s San Francisco HQ Inspired by the Pacific Crest Trail

Slack, Studio O+A, Primo Orpilla, Dan Kretchmer, Pacific Crest Trail, San Francisco
Garrett Rowland and Amy Young

By Meghan Hall

Founded in Vancouver, Slack Technologies has seen its work-based messaging platform skyrocket to success in recent years, as everyone from Fortune 500 companies to niche businesses communicate via Slack’s cloud-based platform. Now, with more than 10 million daily active users throughout 150 countries, and with clientele that includes Oracle, SAP and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Slack began looking for a space to serve as the company’s long-term headquarters in San Francisco. The firm settled on its new Howard Street location several years ago, and over the course of two years has worked with San Francisco-based architecture and design firm Studio O+A to finish out the space, which is inspired by a combination of Slack’s core values and the Pacific Crest Trail.

“They had some interesting perspectives, and this being their first real space of scale brought a different kind of element into the conversation, as well as the fact that this was going to be a headquarters for them,” said Dan Kretchmer, architect with Studio O+A. One of the most important things was finding a space large enough; the main goal was to have everyone in one building.”

Prior to deciding on its Howard Street location, Studio O+A had been working with Slack on a number of swing spaces throughout the city, as the company attempted to accommodate its rapidly growing workforce. Slack had been subleasing space from Eventbrite prior to its expansion, among others. 

Slack took ten floors in the building, and Gymboree, the space’s previous tenant moved out, Studio O+A and Slack began working on the design of the overall space, based initially on Slack’s main company values.

“Their brand pillars are quite unique: craftsmanship, thriving, solidarity, playfulness, courtesy and empathy,” explained Dan Kretchmer, architect with Studio O+A. “Those are not normally brand pillars that you find very much in Silicon Valley, and that was already telling of who they are as a culture and a brand.”   

Additionally, Slack hoped for a space that would encourage its employees to move around to different floors, given the large and vertical nature of its office, tasking Studio O+A with the challenge of creating an office design that encouraged discovery and circulation. It was in these discussions that the idea of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the story behind the trail and its meaning, was decided upon as the office’s primary design inspiration.  

The trail extends from Vancouver — Slack’s hometown — all the way down to San Diego, and not only encompasses a vast array of landscapes. The trail itself, as well as those on it, serve as a larger metaphor encompassing Slack’s product and brand pillars; in both cases travelers on the trail and those using Slack’s communications software work together in pursuit of a common, greater accomplishment.

Each floor in Slack’s office corresponds to a varying landscape on the trail, including desert, high desert, the mountains, the lakes, water falls, volcanoes, glaciers and summit.

“We wanted to get people moving around and visually sparking more creativity by seeing different landscapes and visual elements throughout the space,” said Kretchmer. “[The Pacific Crest Trail] really helped create a unifying story as you make your way through the building, but also there are these micro stories on each floor to help set them apart.” 

Studio O+A used similar, but slightly varied, materials, textures, finishes and plants to define each floor and indicate slight changes in environment. On the lower, desert-like floors, the lighting is purposefully warmer, succulents are one of the plants of choice and terra cotta is incorporated into the space. On higher floors, cooler tones expressed through white and blue light, as well as trees and glass play into the glacial and mountain-top themes. And, as opposed to one well-defined office feature, unique surprises are woven into each floor.

“We wanted to make the floors each feel like a specific element of the Pacific Crest Trail, whether you are on the desert floor or the high mountains,” said Primo Orpilla, co-founder of Studio O+A. “I think all of the features are amazing, and there is a certain element of discovery Slack wanted. You don’t go straight all of the time, you find different things as you go around the trail. The floors are very discoverable that way.” 

Kretchmer noted that the fifth floor features a topographical print of Lake Tahoe, while the 10th floor features a new mezzanine and coffee bar. Now complete, Slack’s new office can accommodate 2,300 employees.

Kretchmer, added on, “There isn’t one fixed feature because the goal is to get lost. It is really like choosing your own adventure. And this goes to Slack; I’ve never before worked with a client who cares so much about providing individual opportunities and moments for their employees, and really making them feel so special…I cannot say how really unique they are as a company.”

Slack, Studio O+A, Primo Orpilla, Dan Kretchmer, Pacific Crest Trail, San Francisco
Garrett Rowland and Amy Young
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