Tech Companies Tailor Older San Francisco Buildings to Fit Their Needs

Tech Companies, Eventbrite, Rapt Studio, San Francisco, Cannae Partners LLC, Emeryville, Northern California, Zendesk, Technology News
Photo Credit-Mariko Reed

By Robert Celaschi

When online ticketing service Eventbrite got ready to expand into new offices, the company wanted to retain the bright, energetic environment of its original space but add an element of sophistication: A startup as grownup.

The task of designing the new space at 155 5th St. in San Francisco fell to Rapt Studio.

Design strategist Joseph White and his team came up with a series of rings. The outer ring of the seventh-floor office holds the main work area, featuring floor-to-ceiling glass. Inside that ring is a series of group meeting spaces offering different environments for different types of engagement. The mix can include traditional conference tables, a circle of lounge chairs or standing-height tables with tall stools. Most have one wall open, though some can be closed off by a movable fourth wall of glass.

The innermost ring is a group of smaller, quieter offices for one to four people. They serve as retreats fitted out with floor lamps, wall sconces and even an occasional hammock.

While there isn’t a 1-to-1 proportion of desks to employees, there are plenty more spaces to sit down than there are people in the office, White said.

At the very center is a café, where all the furniture is mobile so the room also can be used as a gathering place with full audio-visual capability.

But the Eventbrite design had to accomplish two more things: It had to incorporate the oranges and pastels of the Eventbrite branding palette, and it had to make the office easy to spot. A slash of bright orange marks the street entrance, while a pattern of large pastel triangles becomes visible from inside the door.

Photo Credit-Mariko Reed

Many of Eventbrite’s employees like to bike to work, but the company didn’t want bicycles strewn all around the office. Rapt included a room near the front door where people can hang their bikes. The room has a simple, industrial treatment with hooks bolted to corrugated metal walls.

While Eventbrite chose a modern building—erected in 1973 and built out for Eventbrite in 2013 by SC Builders’ San Francisco team—software company Zendesk took a retro route. Zendesk has taken over 70,000 square feet at 1019 Market St., built in 1909. Zendesk occupies nearly the entire building, with the exception of a 2,500-square-foot retail space.

Cannae Partners LLC brought the old Eastern Outfitting Co. building into the 21st century while paying tribute to its historic roots. Renovations were done by Balfour Beatty Construction, whose Northern California Division is based in Emeryville.

“When we took over the building it had been kind of run down,” said Bob Basso, a co-founder of San Francisco-based Cannae Partners. Many architectural details had been plastered over, and the original ceilings were covered in drab acoustic tile. Now the interiors feature exposed brick and wood, along with an upgraded heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. With few interior walls, light now pours in from both the Market Street front and the Stevenson Street rear.

The space was delivered to Zendesk as a warm shell. The company, which worked with San Francisco firm Design Blitz on the interior design, chose to keep the exposed brick by giving it a matte clearcoat. Zendesk said its interior finishes used the same branding principles as the company’s software: airy, humble, charming and uncomplicated.

“We have Danish founders, so basically those principles combined with Danish modern was the starting place,” said Ainsley Hill, Zendesk’s senior manager of global facilities. “One of the first things we decided to do was paint the ceilings white. We wanted to brighten the space as much as possible.”

Zendesk used its green branding color sparingly, focusing more on natural light woods.

“One of the things they did that was interesting to us, they took the lower level and put in stadium-style seating so you could really look down from the light well into that basement level, and they could have their earning calls or larger customer meetings down there,” Basso said.

Each floor has a wall of windows facing Market Street. Zendesk chose the second floor as a spot for yoga classes.

When 1019 Market was built, it included five-story strings of incandescent light bulbs outlining the banks of windows on the upper floors. After decades of darkness, they once again shine, this time in LED bulbs. It adds to the “fun factor” of the building, Basso said, and pays tribute to what was advanced technology from more than 100 years ago.

The side of the building sports a light show of a different sort. “Let There Be,” a yearlong art installation by Ben Davis, which went up in June, projects a constantly changing series of giant images onto a white sheet.

Upgrading a building so old can be tricky. There were no architectural drawings showing what was behind the plaster.

“You really are starting the demolition and crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, hoping the wood and brick are still in a condition that is attractive and usable,” Basso said.

Photo Credit-Vantage Point Photography Inc.
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