As other industries continue to face challenges in the evolving economy, the tech sector is expanding, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. Atlassian, a firm that makes collaboration software for product teams and works with 85 of the Fortune 100 companies, has grown from a handful of employees to 200 in 10 years. Studio Sarah Willmer Architecture designed the company’s first office, which it later outgrew, and Atlassian hired Willmer again to design its second office.
Dubbed Atlassian II, the new office occupies a 42,000-square- foot warehouse a few blocks from the initial office in the South of Market (SoMa) district of San Francisco. Built in 1924 as a printing plant, the building was later used as a church, a disco, and offices for the San Francisco Unified School District. It is a rare urban gem featuring industrial sash windows and a lofty interior that is wide and column free, thanks to distinctive steel bow trusses.
Capitalizing on the urban location, many of Atlassian’s employees bicycle to work, and the office’s interior serves as a microcosm of the city. As Atlassian President Jay Simons explains, “We sought a wonderful environment for staff that would work equally well as a meeting place for clients. We wanted to manifest our values of openness and transparency in the design, so we chose Sarah Willmer to make a smooth transition from the first space she had done for us.”
Willmer understood that constant growth is part of Atlassian’s DNA. She and Simons worked together to make the warehouse feel open and egalitarian, yet intimate. The space contains only two glass-enclosed private offices—for the CFO and the company’s lawyer—and all other employees work in an open office configuration. Workstations are oriented in rows along the two long sides of the light-filled volume on both the ground floor and mezzanine gallery. Amenities include a kitchen, a cafe with a 25-foot-long island, a game room, a lounge, bicycle parking, and showers. The space also features break-out areas, including one furnished with AstroTurf and beanbags, as well as small rooms for making private phone calls.
Town square as the central focus
In the center of the office is a large, double-height town square with freestanding, casual seating and a set of cushioned wood bleachers for staff to relax and meet informally or for the company to hold product launch meetings and presentations. The bleachers also allow Atlassian to host the occasional movie night for employees and their families. Constructed from marine-grade plywood, the bleachers provide covering for the primary conference room. Opposite the bleachers are six additional glass-enclosed conference rooms, including one located on the mezzanine level that is framed in plywood.
The glass conference room enclosures were the largest expense for the otherwise spare interior. The concrete floor of the town square was re-poured and polished, and the floors elsewhere are carpeted to absorb sound. Translucent LUMAsite panels screen the ground floor windows from the street, and industrial lighting was added, but Willmer chose to preserve the rough edges and patina of the old building.
By doing so, she created a space that is naturally lit and ventilated and uses very little energy.
Professional yet fun
Designing an open office on a large scale while creating a dynamic relationship between personal and collaborative activity was a challenge for Willmer. But her design preserves lines of sight between each group of employees without overpowering the individual. “Atlassian was a dream to work with; we just jumped in and figured it out together,” she says. “The idea of flexibility carries over from its work to the spaces they occupy, and they understand what it takes to attract and keep the best talent.”
In contrast to social media and game companies, Atlassian creates products for big corporations and needs to project an air of seriousness. But, as Simons insists, “Work and fun go hand in hand; you have to feel the human energy.”
- Architect: Studio Sarah Willmer Architecture
- Client: Atlassian
- Where: San Francisco
- What: 42,000 square feet on two floors
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request
Key Design Highlights
- The warehouse retains an industrial character with minimal and cost-conscious interior interventions.
- Openness is maximized—only two enclosed offices and conference rooms are glazed.
- The town square includes sculptural bleachers that host meetings and movie nights alike.
- The building uses little energy thanks to abundant daylight and natural ventilation.