By Meghan Hall
Over the past ten years, since 2011, optics and optoelectronics technology company Zeiss has undertaken a global investment strategy to expand and modernize its office sites worldwide. In recent months, Zeiss has completed the build-out of its latest high tech sites in Dublin, Calif. The design of the Dublin location was inspired not just by Zeiss’ continued desire to remain competitive within the industry, but the company’s rich history in the science and innovation industries.
“Zeiss is an incredible household name in terms of the innovation and the work that they do in optics,” explained Gensler Principal Ben Tranel. “But like every company, they are looking to improve their competitive advantage, and one of the ways they sought to do that was to accelerate the pace of innovation that happens.”
Zeiss was originally founded in 1846 and has since grown into one of the largest, research-oriented enterprises for optics in the world. Its equipment has been used by renowned researchers and Nobel Prize laureates such as Marie Curie. Zeiss camera lenses were used to capture the first moon landings and missions in June 1969.
“It is a very storied company,” noted Tranel. “That was a really interesting insight that we gained early on. We wanted to create pride in subtle ways.”
The goal of the project team, therefore, was to channel this history into a new headquarters worthy of future innovation. The best way to continue to encourage innovation, from the perspective of Gensler, was to increase the proximity of multiple departments and design more fluidity into the building in such a way that organic encounters between different company units would occur.
In all, the new Zeiss headquarters rises three stories and totals 208,650 square feet. It sits on 13.5 acres between Interstates 580 and 680. The building houses Zeiss Industrial Quality Research and Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology departments and has space for about 700 workers.
All of the front of house spaces, show and demonstration rooms and labs are located on the first floor of the building. This makes the process of innovation accessible not just to Zeiss employees but to visitors to the building, while the location of the lab spaces on the ground floor means less structural vibration within the building. Office spaces are located on the upper two levels, while the third floor hosts cafeteria and break space.
A wide, central stair connects all three levels and acts as a focal point. The stair also provides increased movement throughout the building.
“[We designed it] so that there is a natural destination on all of the different parts of the building over the course of the day,” said Tranel. “It enhances the chance to encounter other people you may not be working directly with, but you would just encounter each other throughout those different spaces.”
The exterior of the building features aluminum glass facades, and while the interior is clad in a mix of woods, carpets, and exposed concrete. The walls were kept a crisp white and are broken up with darker accents, such as desks and the feature stair. Additionally, because of Zeiss’ work with optics, the use of light became a pivotal feature.
“More conceptually and aspirationally, because Zeiss is a company that works with optics, we hit upon this notion early on to use light as a material and craft the building out of light,” said Tranel.
The center of the building features an array of skylights that diffuse natural light throughout the building. The skylights also act as a natural wayfinding component, added Tranel.
While Zeiss’ new headquarters is unique to its own mission and business, the design of the building also fits within a broader trend within the sciences and technology industry. More and more, companies are actively working to put their innovation and advancements on display. Highlight the work of the company and its impact will become more of a prevalent design element moving forward, and it will be an aspect of design not just visible to employees, but to company visitors and guests, as well.
“What we did was through the design, and ultimately in a more nuanced way, we really brought Zeiss out on display,” said Tranel. “You can see the research space, you can see the lab space and…I think those spaces really highlight the work of the company and how they are really having an impact.”