The Office Space of Cyber Space

Gawker evolves from an independent blog that operated out of the founder’s basement into a media empire that is sprawling into a new 60,000-square-foot office. By Chris Curtland

Gawker | Manhattan, N.Y.
Olson Kundig Architects

Although I’m an employed editor, I sometimes even write for fun. When I launched a blog about my misadventures coaching youth sports, I did most of the work at a coffee shop or on the couch. So why would a blogger need a hip, new workspace in Union Square?

The answer: when your blog’s eight core brands hit an audience of 80 million, its revenues are 32 percent ahead of last year, and its staff is approaching 300. Gawker’s new office is my pick because I believe in the importance of independent media—and because it’s just plain cool.

The company is bursting at the seams, and its cozy SoHo walkup loft can’t accommodate the growth. Gawker’s current site also lacks spaces to gather and results in a compartmentalized work experience, explained Kirsten Murray, partner and principal at Olson Kundig Architects, designer of the project. Its open studio environment brings about a “headset culture” where people withdraw into their media to block out distractions in highly concentrated, bench-seating arrangements.

“The worker profile at Gawker is diverse with a wide range of types from writers to designers, sales and business administration, and various project-based teams like the web groups Gizmodo and Jezebel,” Murray said. “They need ways to own their space and adapt it to what they are doing.”

The new site’s adaptable design purposefully avoids patronizing users with trendy colors and themes. The simple material palette allows the building’s historic features to shine. “The ‘look’ will be complete when people activate the place with their work,” said Murray. “We hope it’s a place that feels right for many years to come and only gets more interesting with time and use.”

A fundamental design decision appears in the central architectural spine of the space, which features a main grand stair that directs traffic flow through and around the central hub. The spine is also edged on either side by removable panels that will open during the day to let in natural light and shutter at night for events. The work/party balance is a major aspect of Gawker’s culture.

“During the day, the intention is to encourage impromptu conversations and meetings and serve as a touch-down space,” Murray added. “In the evening, the lounge becomes a gathering area and the central bleacher can be a stage for screenings and performances. The space has a theatricality.”

To further spur collaboration, the answer is to offer a range of spaces from personal to the collective. Its conservatory is a light-filled room for individual inspiration. The reading room also offers privacy, while studios and lounge areas can be divided into smaller six- to 12-person pods.

“Creative ideas don’t always happen while sitting at a desk facing your computer,” said Murray. “By offering a range of spaces, the creative process is supported. We were drawn to the notion that a space can play many different roles, and the architecture allows you to perch, retreat, gaze, or even be a gawker.”