A collaborative building

I’m always interested in finding new and better ways for collaboration to occur. So when I was reading Steve Jobs’ biography last week (Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson) I was really excited to read that when developing the new Pixar building in the early 2000s, Steve Jobs focused on how to design it to ensure that collaboration would occur. He believed that the right sort of building could do great things for the culture of an organisation.

The building is just one large building (rather than the usual campus style) and is centred around a central atrium. The idea was this central atrium would encourage “random encounters“, as Jobs believed that “creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”  It was hoped that the building design would get people out of their offices and for them to start mingling in the central atrium. This way, people are more likely to bump into someone they wouldn’t usually see or even have a conversation with.

The front doors open onto this main atrium, and this is also where all main corridors lead to. The cafeteria and mailboxes are also situated in the atrium, so once again making people get out of their offices and into one central place. Even the conference rooms, large theatre and screening rooms all opened onto the atrium as well. And last, but certainly not least, the only two sets of bathrooms also were located on either side of the atrium…. (He certainly didn’t leave anything to chance. Everyone must pass through that atrium at least a few times every day!)

John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar, was quoted in the biography as saying –

“Steve’s theory worked from day one. I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.”

I think an organisation needs to have a culture of collaboration to start with (which both Pixar and Apple did have), but I love the idea of the actual layout of the building helping to cement this further and truly allowing spontaneous collaboration to happen. How could you alter your office to allow for more collaboration to occur?

If you want to see the Pixar building complete, you can take a look at a “behind the scenes” video here.

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