At Least AOL’s New Offices In Palo Alto Aren’t A Disaster [Slideshow]

AOL’s surprisingly lovely West Coast headquarters are designed as “a spatial equivalent to the transparency that AOL was bringing to every aspect of its business.” Riiiiiiight. Just check out the pretty pictures.

San Francisco design agency Studio O+A has sent us images of its new West Coast headquarters for AOL in Palo Alto and — hold on to your foosball tables — it doesn’t completely suck!


We say that not because Studio O+A sucks. The firm is actually a skilled interior designer to the Internet stars, having whipped up interiors for Yelp, Facebook, PayPal, and others that deftly straddle the line between real, live professional workplaces and the standard dot-com aesthetic of arrested adolescence.

No, we say that, because, well, AOL sucks: the declining revenue, the weird HuffPo deal, the astronomical cynicism of The AOL Way. But it’s trying to suck less. Or something. And a good way to suck less is to look like you suck less — to freshen your office with loads of color and light and rough-hewn, wide-open spaces. Studio O+A write that what they’ve tried to create here is “a spatial equivalent to the transparency that AOL was bringing to every aspect of its business.”

Studio O+A has taken pains to make the place cheerful and humane.

Um, okay. Truth be told, we couldn’t care less if the office is a fitting tribute to AOL’s smarmy corporate rhetoric. What we want to know is this: Is it a nice place to work? Will it do anything to boost employee morale? Studio O+A have certainly taken pains to make the place cheerful and humane. The existing space was unabashedly corporate, with drop ceilings, tall cubicles, and the sort of dark, depressing finishes that got way too much play in the ’80s. Studio O+A “restored the space to a clean, white canvas,” stripping the ceilings and floors and walls to reveal the building’s original structure.

And, of course, they tore down the cubicles. Except that now that people work in a fully exposed, open-plan office, they need places where they can concentrate or hold a private conversation now and again. So Studio O+A sprinkled a series of OSB and translucent fiberglass “pods” throughout the main work areas to serve as private meeting rooms.

The designers also built a big, bright central collaborative space, which they bill as “part kitchen, part play space, part kick-back area… [and] all-hands common area” and which AOL has taken to calling the Town Hall (Arianna Huffington spoke there when the company acquired the HuffPo). This being a tech company, naturally, it’s got a game room, too.

We like the design. And we hope it does what the design firm prophecies and creates “a stimulating environment for the firm’s staff.” Sure sounds like they need it. At minimum, the next time the mucky mucks send out a memo on how to write an article so that it blasts to the top of the search engines, employees will have plenty of private pods to scream into.


[Images by Jasper Sanidad courtesy of Studio O+A]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.