ZIBA Design's New Headquarters Captures The True 21st Century Zeitgeist

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on July 31, 2009

I was given a personal tour of ZIBA Design’s new headquarters in Portland’s Pearl District recently and it just took my breath away. The intense engagement of ZIBA founder Sohrab Vossoughi and the two partners of Holst Architecture has generated a marvelous living organism.

To me, the building is modest, not loud, sustainable (of course) and most important, all about collaboration, integration and relationships. It’s not a monument to its owners or its architect, the way the New York Times building is. ZIBA’s headquarters is a paen to how we live and work today.

Listening to Sohrab describe the retrofitted warehouse, it's all about connecting "streets, neighborhoods," and "tribes." A huge percentage of the building is simply given over to clients, not just work rooms but conference rooms and places to shower, take a break and just hang out. They "own" it because ZIBA is open sourced in the sense that clients are part of the consultancy, not distant companies that throw one-off projects at it. The culture is one of connectedness or networks and the work space reflects that.

The biggest surprise to me was the design of the designers workspace. Not only are there no cubicles, but there aren't large tables. ZIBA has long docking ports where people can alight, plug in, check out email or listen to music. But it's more like eating at a communal restaurant table than any current office, including any current design consultancy office. It's a true iteration of work and workspace. Daring. Sohrab says that everyone is part of a series of tribes that work with different clients, rotating into two or three groups. And everyone integrates very closely with everyone else. All the disciplines are intermixed heavily and deeply--design, anthropology, communication, visualization, engineering, etc.

The most beautiful part of the building isn't even part of ZIBA's headquarters. It's the soaring auditorium that you enter from the street. In fact, you enter directly onto the stage and walk up to the seats. Again, it's the close relationship to community that marks this architecture. ZIBA wants artists, musicians, actors--the leading edge of culture to come to this auditorium to perform and share. In that way, ZIBA's people can connect and learn and pass on that knowledge to clients.

And yes, there are soaring windows, amazing light and beautiful reused wood (old nail holes are the new nice in wood).

Most conversation about architecture is really about sculpture--how the outside looks. On that score, the ZIBA HQ is just OK. No big deal. But this constraint, this modesty, is what I love most about the building. Because today, in these times, authenticity and credibility are what we value. Not the bling, not the flash. The ordinariness of the building's skin surrounds a remarkable creativity and beauty within.

Yeah, I like it lot.

Reader Comments

Cinderella Kolesnik

January 21, 2011 2:55 PM

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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