Workbook: Old and New for Yelp’s San Francisco Headquarters

O + A designed a new headquarters for Yelp in a classic 1925 building in San Francisco. The spaces balance vintage and contemporary elements, while fostering a feeling of community. Photography by Jasper Sanidad/Courtesy O + A.

O + A designed a new headquarters for Yelp in a classic 1925 building in San Francisco. The spaces balance vintage and contemporary elements, while fostering a feeling of community. Photography by Jasper Sanidad/Courtesy O + A.

When Timothy Pleuger’s Pacific Telephone + Telegraph building was completed in 1925, the San Francisco edifice bore the distinction of being the first major high rise south of Market, not to mention being the largest office building on the West Coast. Nearly a century later it has a new life, thanks to Internet review bigwig Yelp.

To turn the vintage structure into a home for a thoroughly 21st-century business, Yelp called on a design team that included Primo Orpilla and Denise Cherry, whose firm, O + A, had designed previous spaces for the company. This time, though, “they wanted something intimate, and that drew them to the building,” says Cherry. Adds Orpilla, “They were committed to the urban core— a lot of tech companies are breathing new life into these places.” A far cry from the seemingly faceless cubes of the 80s and 90s, the older buildings offer windows, light and a smaller floor plate, all elements that got to fostering a sense of community for the company.

Of course, what made the building so appealing—a vintage high rise—also created some of the biggest design challenges. As Cherry notes, “the clients didn’t want their employees to feel siloed on their floors.” To solve the problem, the designers created a layout that dots common spaces throughout the building so that floors become destinations—not just to their own denizens but to the employees as well. On the eight floor, there’s a coffee shop, the fifth contains a break room with seating, and the eleventh has semi-private pods for various activities.

As they designed the spaces, “The materiality was meant to honor and contrast against the existing building,” says Cherry. In the Yelp offices, mostly brick and concrete, they incorporated reclaimed timber elements (including existing doors reused for the conference room) and incorporated elements with tactile elements to strike a dynamic balance. “We wanted things they could touch and feel,” she says, including, notably, a light fixture composed of lengths of rope.

The net result of O + A’s efforts has yielded the best of both worlds. Spaces that honor the past yet are perfectly suited to the needs of a modern company.

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