Zappos wants to join the likes of Port Sunlight (Lever Soap), Pullman, IL (Pullman Coach), and the Reedy Creek Improvement District (Disney) in creating their own company town with Tony Hsieh’s new $350 million startup:
Hsieh and a few partners — the vast majority of the investment is Hsieh’s — plan to spend $350 million to develop and build a small city in the roughly 1.5-square mile downtown area around the Fremont East and Arts District areas (for CES-trekkers and other Vegas aficionados, it’s a few miles north of the Strip). Hsieh’s goal: To turn the overlooked area into a neighborhood not just for his workers’ coffee breaks, but a new live/work/play destination for Las Vegas’ emerging creative class.
This is the plan (modest it’s not): $100 million will go to the purchase of land (not including the new Zappos headquarters) and building acquisition. An additional $100 million will go to residential development including the building of high-rise apartments. Fifty million dollars will go to tech startups Hsieh plans to recruit to the area with seed investments of $100,000 or so apiece. Another $50 million will go toward drawing local small businesses like bakeries, yoga studios, restaurants, coffee shops and other requisite creative-class amenities. And because Hsieh wants people to move here and that requires having decent education for their children, another $50 million will go toward education and the building of — what else? — a school system.
This is an interesting counterpoint to the typical start-up’s wish to create an inward-facing campus (Google, Apple, et al) to house, feed and care for their employees. The urbanist in me hopes that Zappos’ succeeds in creating a place in such a damn-awful location which is Las Vegas. It would be well worth the investment to have their campus to be as permeable as the urban core.
It strikes me that so many new trends are just about “rediscovering” historical precedents. Look at Lifestyle center retail, such as Easton Town Centre (below), which explicitly returns to mixed-use town center designs. It isn’t so much as New Urbanism “won” (whatever that means), but that for the last 100 years or so, we were building automobile-dominated space, place and cities. Now developers and city agencies realize there is a pent-up demand for walkable urban living.
It will be interesting to see if the spaces they create are more like Fog Creek’s new office which is more private, supporting alone work; or, will the open-office illustrated by Foursquare’s new office be built. Kottke is dismayed that working in solitude on the decline:
The New Groupthink has overtaken our workplaces, our schools and our religious institutions. Anyone who has ever needed noise-canceling headphones in her own office or marked an online calendar with a fake meeting in order to escape yet another real one knows what I’m talking about. Virtually all American workers now spend time on teams and some 70 percent inhabit open plan offices, in which no one has “a room of one’s own.” During the last decades, the average amount of space allotted to each employee shrank 300 square feet, from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet in 2010.
There was a time where we thought working alone was the only way to accomplish tasks; a certain strand of Taylorism of the office emerged in the early 20st Century, dominating space and hierarchy for half a century. Recently both technology and work theory has moved toward collaborative, and often multidisciplinary, teams. This is how we work at IDEO: small, nimble teams of experts in their own disciplines who come together to solve a problem.
My sense is that a healthy office culture values flexibility of space and workstyles in order to maximize their worker’s skills and output. It seems, to steal from Bob & Denise, office space needs a both-and solution: create varied typologies of space, each with a point of view and type of work clearly defined. Sprinkle liberally, and trust your people to choose where to work and when, so they can get their job done.
This means creating project spaces which facilitate groupwork; phone booths which allow single- or couples to make phone calls; small private offices which allow people to go “heads down;” kitchens and eating areas which allow mixing of colleagues; open-office studio space to house workers when they aren’t in project, phone or private space. The “white room” (above) at Stanford’s d.school is a great example of space which has a point of view, but is flexible. Classical “multipurpose space” (endemic with their horrible accordion dividers), without a point-of-view on how people might use the space, is a waste of resources and will lead to the exact negative feelings of open office Kottke abhors.