Studio O+A’s design for the Slack Headquarters puts employees’ heads in the clouds

Take a Hike

Photo of a black office space with tubular lights coming from the ceiling

When Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield approached Studio O+A to design his company’s new San Francisco headquarters, he talked about wanting a design that would embrace the natural beauty of the West Coast, from the Cascadian forests of his youth to the California mountains where he loves to hike. It was up to the designers to figure out how to pack the wonder of landscapes like Joshua Tree and Yosemite into the 132,269 square feet of office space spread across six floors of a midrise downtown building. Sure, you can hear them saying, no problem.

Lighting, not just furniture and finishes, varies across the floors. (Garrett Rowland)

Photo of circular seating arrangements in an office space
Seating arrangements on the forest level were based off of "fairy circles." (Garrett Rowland)

Photo of a room with a couch and two chairs and some planted cacti in the corners
Studio O+A didn’t just match furniture and finishings to each floor’s ecological theme—they matched the plants, too. Planterworx planters on the desert floor hold a variety of succulents. Geiger Crosshatch Chairs and a Muuto Outline Sofa give this informal meeting space a relaxed, camp-like vibe. (Garrett Rowland)

The Studio O+A team came up with a neat conceit: The headquarters would be organized like the Pacific Crest Trail, with each floor mimicking a biome that a hiker would travel through on his or her journey. The lowest floor is covered in the warm brown tones of the Southern California desert, with potted cactuses to match, and successive floors above climb through climes, culminating in a forest-themed level with dappled overhead lighting and birch bark screens. The design is meant to orient workers as they navigate the building, a helpfulness inspired by the ethos of hiking, according to Primo Orpilla, Studio O+A cofounder and principal. “There’s a certain trail etiquette about helping people along the route—it’s about learning and discovery, and we used that as a design philosophy.”

Photo of an office interior with residential furnishings and banquette seating
The top floor’s forest theme embraces warm wood surfaces and dreamy green textiles. The organic curves in furniture from Normann Copenhagen and Bolia keep the spaces feeling soft and comfortable. (Garrett Rowland)

Rather than mimicking nature literally, Studio O+A loosely translated landscape features like waterfalls and mountain lakes into custom details like cascading seating steps and sculptural lighting installations. Circular meeting nooks on the forest-themed floor are inspired by rings of trees known as “fairy circles.” To finish these designs, the team selected materials “you might not expect inside,” said Verda Alexander, cofounder at Studio O+A. “We were able to bring the outside in…with plants and materials like concrete block and gravel.”

Photo of the interior of an office space with informal seating and a green wall
Although every floor has a distinct theme, all of them feature simple, casual furniture and lots of plants. Chairs from Tolix are paired with a Magis table in a flexible space on the waterfall floor. (Garrett Rowland)

Photo of an informal interior office space with perforated lighting screen above
On the waterfall level, custom lighting panels by Commercial Casework Inc. dapple Naughtone and Fredericia lounge chairs, tables by &Tradition and Bolia, and a sofa by Bolia in bubbles of light. (Garrett Rowland)

The Slack office is an evolution from Studio O+A’s earliest work for tech giants such as Facebook, for which the firm stripped back warehouses to their raw industrial bones. “That was workplace 1.0,” Orpilla said, “and this is workplace 3.0.” While parts of the Slack office do flaunt exposed structural surfaces, overall the design is more additive than subtractive—more focused on building the company’s unique visual identity than creating a tabula rasa.

Such evolution is part of how Studio O+A keeps its designs original, even after working on dozens of tech offices. “We aim to never repeat details; we want the work to be special,” Orpilla said. “People come back to spaces like that.” Not that it’s easy to constantly rethink the way people work. “It does drive us crazy,” Orpilla said, “but it’s a good crazy.” Nothing a nice hike wouldn’t fix.