Transparent, Almost

Transparent, Almost

San Francisco architectural firm O+A designed the new Palo Alto, CA headquarters of AOL.  On its website, O+A describes it as “a design that embodies the qualities of the new AOL: transparency, collaboration, creativity and playfulness.”

An unusual feature of that design is a series of cylindrical pods intended as impromptu conference rooms.  To promote collaborative spontaneity and creativity, they are available to any employee at any time, and cannot be reserved.

They are constructed of oriented strand board (OSB) and translucent fiberglass panels.  OSB as a finish material is seen in many parts of this office design, part of the architect’s embrace of “honest materiality.”  The corrugated fiberglass panels are actually a blend of transparency and privacy, showing enough to reveal whether the silo is populated or empty, but obscuring any detailed view.  The panels’ undulation surfaces also give the pods a flowing visual texture.

The meeting rooms seem like a very smart means to encourage collaboration, because they are inviting.  From the outside, people and objects within appear with a kind of fuzzy glow, courtesy of another collaboration: tiny cylindrical glass lenses – glass fibers – and clear resin, interfaced thousands of times per square inch, that defocus the image seen through it without diminishing the light that passes through.  From inside, that defocused shell makes the surrounding world go away a little bit, but not too far.

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