Valerio Dewalt Train Associates and Office Of Things redesign lobby at YouTube’s HQ

Georgina Johnston
17 Mar 2020

An interactive floor and LED art installation were incorporated into the redesign, initiated when visitors reported the Californian lobby failed to meet expectations preceding YouTube’s creative reputation

As is natural for a progressive company that has endured the passage of time, YouTube, in San Bruno, decided that its lobby was in need of an update. Functionally, the existing space was congested, and poor acoustics made it feel loud and chaotic. But equally important, the entrance to such an important tech company felt plain and didn’t reflect the creativity behind the platform nor its nearly two billion user base. For visitors, the lobby would likely be the only part of the company that they would be granted access to, and the experience had been perceived by many as anticlimactic. 

A series of visioning sessions with project stakeholders led to design principles that would dictate the outcome of the new lobby. First, create a striking experience, something memorable that would inspire visitors and mark their arrival at the company headquarters. Second, integrate iconic and share worthy branding to encourage user interaction with social media. Third, incorporate multipurpose functionality and optimal flow, so that the space could be used for events as well as for day-to-day work activities. Fourth and finally, provide a canvas for creators, where visiting Youtubers could display their work at a grand scale. 

901 Cherry’s double-height atrium has been stripped down to its metallic structure, intersected by a long skylight that runs the length of the space. Upon entry, visitors are greeted with a floor-to-ceiling digital installation on the southern wall, neatly tucked between the building’s steel structure. Rather than add a cutting-edge high-resolution screen to display content, the designers treated the installation as an art piece, an abstraction of a screen that celebrates individual pixels. The LEDs that light the panels are broadly spaced and set a few inches behind a layer of soft acoustic fabric, so that the material catches the light as large circles. As a result, the videos that play on the screen take on an abstract, ephemeral quality. Unlike the cold plastic materials typically used in technological products, the soft fabric feels inviting and warm to the touch. When the LEDs are off, they’re invisible behind the fabric. 

YouTube’s famous “play” icon is outlined in neon at the center of the LED wall. The icon is reflected in the black glassy logo mark behind the reception desk directly across the lobby. 

The northern side of the lobby is lined with pockets of green wall, stacked wooden benches, and high table seating. Adding elements of biophilia not only supports employee wellness but also complements the natural wooden textures that contribute to an inviting atmosphere. Amidst the leaves of the green wall hang the glass cases of YouTube’s “Artifact Museum,” which displays memorabilia donated by famous YouTubers. 

A series of floor “medallions” are spread throughout the lobby, encouraging visitors to interact with the digital installation. Each medallion bears a graphic that describes one of YouTube’s core values. Stepping on a medallion triggers a reaction on the digital wall. Activating multiple medallions in different combinations gets different responses, inviting visitors to work together on learning how the medallions function. Much like YouTube’s online platform, the lobby is designed to foster creativity, exploration, and discovery, all while celebrating the company’s content creators and employees alike. 

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