Battling the Dark Side

The design team at HMC Architects creates a high-tech, high-touch space where visitors can immerse themselves in the McAfee brand and experience its real-time approach to cybersecurity through a highly choreographed architectural narrative.

01/30/2013 By Robert Nieminen



A battle of mythic proportions is unfolding in cyberspace, a place where malicious viruses threaten the networks of unsuspecting corporations, and the forces of good are working around the clock to prevent attacks from the dark side.

This story is told quite literally in the architectural language of the new McAfee Headquarters Executive Briefing Center (EBC) in Santa Clara, Calif. Supporting its bold, progressive reputation and visual identity, the design team at HMC Architects created a high-tech, 13,000-square-foot space where visitors can experience McAfee’s real-time, connected approach to security in an ever-changing world.

“They knew they wanted this concept of feeling that you were walking through something dark and ominous and evil, and arriving at a place of strength and resolution to the problem,” explains James Woolum AIA, IIDA, design principal at HMC. “That shaped an architectural narrative that said, ‘Let’s think about the story of your products as kind of the struggle of good and evil.’ So it started this idea of light and dark.”

Visitors enter the EBC by passing through McAfee’s metaphorical “Firewall,” a corridor that features a responsive LED wall with red lights blazing patterns on a dark background as visitors pass through. Cameras integrated into the wall capture visitors’ silhouettes and reflect them back with LED ribbons. The purpose of the Firewall is to heighten anticipation and provide subtle clues that you are entering the heart of the EBC.

Next, visitors have the opportunity to view a slice of what McAfee Labs™ researchers see on the McAfee “Global Threat Intelligence” display. A digital world map shows the top 10 threats discovered in real-time; each pulse represents 1,000 hits of a given piece of malware. Visitors can even type in a named threat to see its impact worldwide.

Once a threat is identified, McAfee’s signature “War Room” springs to life; the lights change from white to red “and that room becomes activated to deal with this potential threat of this virus,” says Woolum. “So that room became the very technical, very rough room where you would go in and do battle with these electronic foes around the world.”

Designed to look like the company’s Security Operations Center (SOC), this is where the press, technical experts and executives can dive deeper into McAfee technology with detailed, hands-on product demos. The War Room, which gives visitors a sense that they are in the heart of a command center, is outfitted with eight monitors, so that a single data set can be viewed eight different ways. This helps visitors visualize the security information and make sense of the data as it relates to their own organization’s security posture.

The crowning achievement of McAfee’s EBC is the “Solutions Table,” which is the collaborative, hands-on hub of the facility. The 20-foot, 500-pound suspended touchscreen tabletop brings McAfee’s story to life for technical and non-technical visitors alike. Multiple users can simultaneously explore a wealth of content from white papers to case studies, conduct threat searches, assess their organization’s security, or view product videos. Each visitor is given a customized USB key for the table so that they can share files across the table with colleagues and download the content they explore via drag and drop.

“I think in some design schemes—even very nice ones—the technology almost becomes like artwork. It becomes interesting in that it’s maybe content-rich and it adds liveliness to the space, but if I walk in, it doesn’t necessarily speak to me as a person,” Woolum says. “The difference here is that the people who run the EBC … if they know that a certain client is coming in, they can actually tweak the content of this table top to be extremely specific to the needs of that client. In that way, this thing is completely flexible and completely driven by how you use the tool to speak to the person who’s interacting with it.”

The design team closely studied McAfee’s brand guidelines as they formulated the interior architecture and presented finishes and materials. Elements of the brand, from the color palette to graphic imagery, are integrated into the spatial design, providing visitors with a strong sense of the company’s dedication to its mission.

Woolum notes that the McAfee brand inspired not only the interplay between opposing concepts of light and dark, good and evil, rough and smooth, but also a closer exchange of ideas between HMC and the client. “What was interesting was, along the way in showing [design concepts] to the brand managers, they actually started to go backward into their brand palette and incorporate the elements that we had brought to the table. It was a real partnership between design and branding, which was a unique experience for me.”

The overall design is a harmonious melding of hard-edged modernism and organic earthiness. Granite floors are adjacent to textured carpeted areas. A slatted wood ceiling and wall elements contrast with high-tech displays, layered translucent red glass and partially exposed ceilings.

The facility consists of two buildings that are joined together by a central double-height lobby space known as “the Knuckle.” Upon entry, visitors are welcomed by a customized message on a digital display with McAfee branding cues. The reception desk with its white marble surface is slightly angled to lead visitors upstairs to the second level. Once on the second floor, to navigate visitors through the desired sequence, the design team created a dynamic architectural device called the “ribbon” that morphs and leads visitors through the EBC. A low bench draws you into the space and then folds upward to become a ceiling element, before continuing to wrap the entire space in different ways and concluding at the Solutions Table.

Unlike a typical showroom where design elements remain neutral so that the product can become the focal point, the EBC provides a much richer experience that enables potential clients to engage directly with the brand.

“This, I think, was different because you’re showcasing technology, which is less tangible than a Mercedes or a couch. You can’t touch it and you can’t sit on it; you can’t take it for a test drive in the traditional sense,” Woolum says. “This was more about immersion in the brand. It was more about creating an environment that was more stimulating and richer. So you weren’t really walking into a showroom and looking at an object, you were really walking into an experience.”


back to top


Acoustical& Metal Mesh
(877) 276-7876

(800) 387-3809

(800) 932-2383

(800) 793-0224

Shaw Contract Group | 1
(800) 257-7429

Mission Bell Mfg., Inc. | 2
(408) 778-2036


(866) 645-6952

(800) 344-2600

Knoll Studio
(800) 343-5665

(888) 783-3522

McGrory Glass
(800) 220-3749

Pulp Studio 
(310) 815-4999

Plastic Glazing
(323) 297-0115

(800) 263-2947

(818) 767-3793 

Kurt Versen
(201) 664-8200

Lighting Science
(321) 779-5520

Louis Poulsen


Mission Bell Manufacturing, Inc.

White Thassos
Carrara Arabescato
Indian Black Premium

Kelly Moore
(800) 874-4436

(800) 899-8916


Cotto De Este
+39 0536 814911

(800) 227-8053

(718) 729-2020


back to top

McAfee Inc.

2821 Mission College Boulevard
Santa Clara, CA 95054
(972) 963-8000

project team
HMC Architects
633 W. Fifth Street
Third Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 542-8300

Robert Canfield
David Wakley