In Vienna, one need only observe patrons meeting over kaffee under the arches of historic buildings to know that Austrians have a knack for turning something as mundane as coffee culture into an art. And, at least when it comes to Microsoft’s new Austrian headquarters, the same could be said of Viennese work life. To transform a bland corporate office into a design-centric showcase for collaborative work culture, the tech corporation held a design competition and ultimately selected up-and-coming firm INNOCAD of Graz, Austria.
Enlivening interiors of a mundane building
“We wanted to introduce innovation to the very conservative business world of Austria,” says Paul Zawilensky, real estate and facilities project manager for Microsoft in Vienna. “We wanted to bring in different designs, from extremely modern to relaxed, with an international flair.” The overall goal of the 48,450-square-foot project was to represent the future of work—thereby underscoring Microsoft’s role as enabler of this global vision through its software and services.
The melding of different aesthetics is sprinkled throughout Microsoft’s three floors within a nondescript office building in a suburb of Vienna. Upon entering, visitors are engulfed by a blue-tinged mural depicting the innards of a computer—an x-ray photo by a Graz street artist. In front of this kinetic backdrop, a sculptural, minimalist white console forms the reception desk. Manmade invention doesn’t completely overrun nature here: Just off of reception, a lush living wall rises 12 feet and spans a length of 50 feet (and three additional living walls are positioned by each of the office’s cafes). In the visitors’ lounge, carpeted in retro gray shag, one can check email on a Globus Scriptorium spherical chair. A meeting might take place in the “Zen” room, which is outfitted with a tranquil rock garden, a low wooden table, and Japanese cushions. To get to the floor below, one could take a shortcut down an adult-sized slide. This is INNOCAD’s vision of the 21st century office—Austrian style.
Core gathering spaces
As the plan is U-shaped around a courtyard, INNOCAD decided to locate the main common areas along the middle of the U. Those include the second- and third-floor cafés and first-floor cafeteria—“a direct line to the coffee-house culture,” says Zawilensky. Other core gathering spaces include lounges—such as one filled with Fatboy beanbags—a library, and a children’s playroom. Instead of the bold striped carpeting that distinguishes the rest of the office, white polyurethane coats these zones from ceiling to wall to floor. Martin Lesjak, principal of INNOCAD, likens the entire block of all three levels’ gathering areas as “a giant piece of furniture that you can walk through.”
For the workspaces, INNOCAD used guidelines from Microsoft’s research division Workplace Advantage. It outlines five categories of employees, ranging from those that are always tied to their desks (“residents”) to those that are mostly mobile (“nomads”). The plan reflects the general workplace trend: for 330 staff there are 220 open workstations, and of those desks, only 65 are assigned.
Instead of fixed workstations throughout, the emphasis is on casual and diverse work environments. So in addition to the open lounges, there are four-person “focus rooms” that do not require advance booking, one-person “phone booths,” and 23 official meeting rooms. “Every meeting area has a different design, since we followed the idea that everyone has their favorite setting for communications,” says Lesjak. The “ocean” room, for instance, has a built-in aquarium, while the particularly popular Austrian Alpine-style room is lined completely in larch wood.
And how has the new world of work been? About half of the workstations are filled, with remaining staff congregating in the informal areas when they’re not mobile. In Microsoft’s assessment, there is a 30 percent increase in employee satisfaction and 16 percent greater workplace efficiency because of the easier workflow. Anecdotally, there are fewer nomads. “People tell me that they’re leaving their home offices and coming in because it is cool and inspiring,” says Zawilensky. And undoubtedly, there are a lot more lattes being consumed.
Key Design Highlights
- 23 themed meeting rooms represent local as well as global culture, from Austrian lodge to Japanese tea house.
- A carefully choreographed series of entertainment and lounging spaces affords easy access between levels.
- Living walls along key circulation routes on all three levels contrast with the high-design environment.
- The office has a range of seating for those who are always in the office, as well as nomads who only occasionally need a desk.
Designer ARGE KOOP/INNOCAD Architektur
Client Microsoft Austria
Where Vienna, Austria
What 48,450 total square feet on three floors
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request