When stadium seating started popping up in offices in earnest about five years ago, people were ready for it. They saw the design feature as “counter corporate,” a break from the times when people would emerge from their siloed cubicles only to gather for all-hands meetings in stiff boardrooms.
Something else might have helped fuel the trend, as well.
“They have a nostalgia of school bleachers,” said Melissa Hanley, the co-founder and CEO of Blitz, an interior design studio. “This might just be my own memories of high school volleyball, but there are strong recollections of stadium seating and a sense of community.”
Like many trends in office design, you can trace the popularity of this one back to the rise of tech startups and Silicon Valley. Offices have been incorporating stadium seating for decades, Hanley says, but it wasn’t until around 2014 when it really took off, for Blitz in particular. As tech companies began to use their physical spaces as a recruitment tool, and as all-hands meetings became more common in many offices, those recognizable bleacher seats started to spread.
You’ll see all kinds of twists on the concept today. At the Workday headquarters in California designed by Form4 Architecture, there’s a large-scale dry erase coloring book with fish on the wall that people are encouraged to draw on.
Or, if you go to Malwarebytes offices it’s obvious that the stadium seating there is a focal point of the space. Plus, there’s a little surprise. Hidden underneath the stairs you’ll find a smaller, cozy space to meet up: a speakeasy. That space under the bleachers was originally slated to store furniture. But that vision didn’t last long.
“We knew we couldn’t waste the space on storage,” said Blitz’s Hanley. Her design team had a vision of creating a secret bar in the project. “This became the perfect location.” (They call the speakeasy “The Cantina,” after the bar in Star Wars Episode IV.)
Hanley’s team at Blitz, who has seen this uptick in stadium seating demands, also designed the Zendesk offices where they took a minimalist approach with small touches of design, like thin cushions on each of the stair levels, a faux-moss wall opposite the stairs that dampens sound, and muted lighting.
The bleacher trend has gone international, too. There’s understated lighting at the bleacher seats at one office in Brisbane. An office in Prague color-blocked their seating in canary yellow. And a Toronto office splashed bold colors over theirs.
You’ll also find this outside of office spaces (and volleyball games). There’s a wine bar in Manhattan, a private home in South Korea, and a coffee shop in Atlanta that feature bleacher seats. Maybe these places are all influenced by an Instagram-focused culture, where designed spaces are often visually stunning. Or maybe, like Hanley, they’re just nostalgic for high school pep rallies and a community spirit.