Pacific North Westeros HQ: Peek Inside HBO's Seattle Workspace

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Published on Architizer, July 26, 2017

A certain, wildly popular cable-television series (hint: “winter is here”) returned last week, and in the Netflix and Hulu age, its fans didn’t need to stay tethered to a cable box to enjoy it: Chances are, some watched it on their tablets or computers. Online streaming has undoubtedly changed the way people watch video content, whether cat clips and do-it-yourself tutorials or full-length movies and television. As an early adopter of this model, HBO set the precedent for other TV networks, launching in 2015 HBO GO as a watch-anywhere perk for its cable subscribers and HBO NOW as a stand-alone video-on-demand product. But the company hasn’t been resting on its laurels these last two years: Its Seattle-based Digital Products division, which oversees HBO GO and NOW, continually needs to enhance these services as well as develop new products and strategies. So to foster the team members’ focus and creativity, HBO commissioned an inspiring, responsive and high-performance workspace occupying 120,000 square feet over three leased floors of a new mid-rise building — and tapped cutting-edge firm Rapt Studio to design it.

Rapt began by conducting a “discovery process” to learn the inner workings and culture of this creative arm of the network, and what they learned was that as the division’s products and goals change, so do the configurations, sizes and work processes of its teams. To address this fluidity and individual work styles, the designers implemented a variety of zones, many of which are communal and multifunctional: reception, lounge (which doubles as a press presentation area), screening room and demo lab on the ninth floor; coffee bar, library and design studio on the 10th; and break room — which transforms into an all-hands space — arcade game room and pantry on the 11th. The 10th-floor design studio serves as the one dedicated workstation zone, yet it remains effortlessly flexible thanks to a raised floor system and mobile sit-to-stand desks and carts that can be rearranged on the fly as the teams reconfigure.

Because ideas can strike at any moment and in any place where creative professionals gather, the design team strategically situated, carved out and furnished the communal areas — including ingresses. Writable surfaces were installed along the 10th-floor corridor, for instance, where employees frequently pass one another to reach the design studio, while alcoves opposite the writable walls can host hallway dialogues that progress into deeper discussions.

Even the central stair that internally connects the three floors encourages spontaneous conversation: Its straight-run flights terminate at oversized landings that, in turn, flow right into each floor’s main communal amenity. And on the handrail sides of the stairs, open floor space holds lounge seating that welcomes small groups or individuals who desire a change of scenery.

In addition to the functionality, it was equally important that the designers got the aesthetics right. For this, they looked at the ethos of the HBO brand, the high-tech work of this department and the regional context of the Pacific Northwest. The color and material palette is therefore a reflection of all of these. Exposed wood and raw steel speak to the region’s manufacturing history as well as the tech industry, while furnishings with a hospitality bent create a welcoming environment for both staff and guests.

The materiality references the region in other ways. “A number of furniture pieces were locally sourced and made from reclaimed materials,” reveals David Galullo, CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Rapt. “We used an amazing local furniture maker based in the Seattle area. They collaborated with us on large walnut tables and the live edge table in the reception area. This was crafted from a 20-foot-long piece of wood felled in the Washington area.”

But what’s perhaps the most striking regional tribute is in the ninth-floor elevator lobby: Seattle’s maritime history led the designers to source rope from an actual maritime supply company and use it in a ceiling installation here. Hundreds of rope segments peek through custom perforated metal panels, ensuring a memorable first impression. One might even say the installation boasts as much originality as HBO’s award-winning programs.