Marie Moutsos’s favorite feature of the Spotify’s NYC HQ office are the string walls. They’re floor-to-ceiling frames filled with a web of colored strings, instead of plaster and paint. The aim is to create separate work spaces and compliment the open floor plan in this office without closing off too many spaces.
Moutsos was the design director at FOX Architects, the firm that designed the office back in 2013. Spotify is a music company, yes. But, really, it’s a tech company. And as such, it has to compete for talent that might also be looking for jobs at Google or Uber.
All photos courtesy of John Gallin & Son, Inc.
It’s a competitive market. Moutsos and her colleague, Jim Allegro, knew that one major way to attract talent is in office design.
“The right perks and social stimulation is the key,” said Allegro, principal at FOX Architects.
The Spotify office, which borrows design elements from the company’s Stockholm headquarters but is largely unique, also has a Spiderman lounge, which features a graphic of the comic book hero; a library where employees meet after hours for book club; and a Wi-Fi-connected rooftop garden.
This Spotify office is at 620 Avenue of the Americas, which Allegro said was the old AOL headquarters. (Spotify expanded to more office space in 4 World Trade Center in 2017.) The space takes up 63,000 square feet and is really more of a campus than an office. That’s by design.
Allegro said that people are meant to have chance encounters with coworkers at the cafe that’s streaming natural light. Or in any of the open areas with lounge chairs, near the string walls.
Instead of sitting at your desk most of the day, and walking down a long hallway to a conference room or another office to talk to a coworker, the office design encourages chance encounters, which could lead to collaborations or creative conversations between coworkers. The rooftop garden is the new water cooler, at least for some offices.
And speaking of desks, Allegro said that when they were working on the Spotify space, it was one of the largest installations of standing desks in the city at the time. Now, you’ll find smatterings of standing desks in many offices trying to attract millennial talent. But at the time, this was another way to attract interest from potential employees.
If you walk around the Spotify office, you might feel like you’re walking around more of a college campus than an office. That’s because of the many shared work spaces, like the cafe or the terrace. The space FOX designed offers an open floor plan, yes, but also quiet spots as well, where people can focus or even just shift from one space to another as their work requires. Someone might want to move from their desk behind the string wall, for example, then meet with a colleague in the Tron room.
You can imagine that executives tasked with a new office design might get carried away with cool features. Moutsos points out a potential pitfall here. She notes that an office where people are meant to work in different spaces besides their desks will only be right for some office cultures and offices.
For example, for an employee to actually work in the cafe for an hour or two, they have to feel like doing so doesn’t make them look like a slacker. The confidence to use the spaces as intended has to come from above, from the people who set the office culture and make the design.
Those people have to think critically about how they want their office culture reflected in the space. While good (or bad) design does affect human behavior, you can’t lean on design to change office culture itself. Design and culture have to go hand in hand.
“A space will magnify the culture,” Moutsos said. “But it can’t fix problems with the culture.”
The idea of garden terraces, well-lit cafe spaces and kitchens stocked with free meals and snacks is all part of a focus in design towards wellbeing.
Allegro explains that a decade ago, architects were interested in sustainability in design. That’s still a focus baked into any good project, but on top of that is an emphasis on personal wellbeing. A focus on the individual. That might mean using natural lighting in a space or offering different kinds of workspaces for various needs throughout the day.
“Good air quality, water, lighting is a big one,” Allegro said. “It’s how you stimulate your mind, body, and spirit in the workplace.”
A healthier work environment helps you function better. And that’s important. For the individual, yes, but also for cohesive and healthy offices.
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